Authorities find Hazel Crest house stuffed with trash
BY DONNA VICKROY email@example.com June 14, 2013 10:36PM
Updated: July 17, 2013 7:02AM
It was the last resort.
When Hazel Crest Police Chief Tom Folliard on Friday enlisted the aid of the fire department, Cook County Animal Control and Illinois State Conservation Police to act on a search warrant, it was the culmination of more than four months trying to resolve a strange and complex problem — an elderly hoarder.
“Of all the warrants I was ever involved in, this is the first time it was a non-criminal subject who needs help but refuses to accept it, and it’s the first time it involves a person I know,” Folliard said.
In February, reports came into Hazel Crest police about loose dogs in the 16800 block of Lincoln Street. Officer Sandy Solomon checked it out and thought she’d try to trap the pit bulls.
But when she tapped at the front door of the house, she learned of a different and serious problem.
The 71-year-old woman who lives there didn’t answer the door, but Solomon detected a horrible stench from the house and saw stuff piled up in the house and in three cars on the property. Neighbors told Solomon about pit bulls and raccoons coming and going from the woman’s house.
The next day, Folliard visited the residence. Then he contacted the Cook County health department and public guardian’s office, Catholic Charities and the woman’s daughter. Several meetings were held to discuss the options.
For Folliard, who was a Chicago police officer for many years before becoming Hazel Crest’s chief, this was his first experience with a hoarder in 40 years in law enforcement. He made it his mission to get the woman help. He sent her letters, some through the mail, some hand-delivered. When they were refused or not answered, he sent her emails.
Folliard has known the woman for more than five years because she regularly attends village board and community policing meetings.
“She seems perfectly rational, perfectly sane,” he said.
And yet her living conditions would suggest otherwise.
“We could have been writing tickets every day, but we chose not to,” he said.
Instead, police made house calls to try to persuade the woman to voluntarily let them in, but she refused, the chief said.
But after the woman’s son-in-law said she was letting raccoons into her house and feeding them, Folliard contacted a law firm. On June 12, a Cook County judge signed the search warrant.
And so at 11:30 a.m. Friday, police, fire, animal control and various social service representatives were at the woman’s door. When she didn’t answer, Folliard ordered firefighters to break in.
Officials determined she was not there and suspect she left, perhaps with some dogs, when she received a copy of the search warrant.
The wooden door opened only partway to reveal massive piles of trash and stuff. Amid a powerful stench, Solomon and Latoya Carraway, the village’s building inspector, entered, video cameras in hand. Two firefighters donned oxygen masks and also went inside. All emerged stunned.
“There are just piles of animal feces, garbage, clothes and just stuff, everywhere,” Carraway said.
“We were walking, but our feet were not touching the floor. We were walking on piles of stuff.”
They found 11 diamond doves in a single cage and two cockatiels in another cage. Animal control warden Jesse Young observed mice and rats running across a bed and dead mice.
The authorities expected to find the pit bulls that neighbors had seen but there were none. Then they heard barking from the next-door neighbor’s locked garage and got permission to search it from the residents, who said they were leasing the house from their aunt — the hoarder.
The officials broke the lock and lured two pit bulls out. They and the birds were taken to the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge.
Folliard ordered a company to board up the entrances to the woman’s house, and police slapped a sticker on the house, declaring it uninhabitable. They plan to meet Monday to discuss what happens next.