Couple rescued from garbage-filled home

May 25, 2010 (CHICAGO) Police say someone called authorities after not having seen the couple in awhile.

Firefighters who entered the home in the 1500-block of 69th Street had to wear hazardous materials suits. Emergency workers had to break down a door to get inside. The two-flat was filled to the ceiling with junk. They eventually found the man and woman trapped in a room.

A fire department spokesperson says Thelma Gaston, 79, may have fallen through the debris and become trapped, then when her husband, Jesse Gaston, 76, tried to free her he got trapped, too.

Fire Department spokesman Kevin MacGregor says the man and woman were both taken to Jackson Park Hospital in critical condition.

Jesse Gaston's sister, Rosie Gaston Funches, says her brother is a college-educated former chemist and his wife is a retired school teacher. Their privacy is what prevented Funches from calling police three weeks ago when she says the couple didn't answer their door. Now, she has regrets.

"I wish I did something about it. I wish I went over there and got Jesse and Thelma out of the building," said Funches. "There's no reason whatsover to live like that. They could have paid somebody to keep their house, pay somebody to do the yard and everything breaks my heart."

Relatives say the couple did not have children and kept to themselves.

"It's incredible. It is just unbelievable. I can't believe the conditions of the house and that anybody can live in under those conditions," said Mary Funches, Jesse Gaston's niece.

Neighbors also had suspicions something was wrong because of the smell.

"At times, it would get bad and at times, he could clean up everything, but we call him Fred Sanford because he's the neighborhood junk man," said neighbor Andrea Adams.

Most say they didn't even know his wife existed and had worried about the elderly man they knew lived there.

"The sick taking care of the sick, both of them are in there sick. No one knows what's going on," said Reola Valentine, who called for the well-being check.

Neighbors say the police summoned the fire department and forced their way through the back of the second-floor apartment.

"The rubbish had fell on her. And he was trying to rescue her, and it fell on him. And so they had been like that, in that position for like the past three weeks. Yeah, and when they came out, they were just skeletons," said Adams.

The neighbor next door says she had tried repeatedly to get some help.

"I gave the alderwoman pictures. I called the Department of Street and Sanitation, and they never made him clean it up," said neighbor Hattie C. Fields.

The couple does have some relatives in Chicago. But even they reportedly have been isolated from the couple.

"It is unusual to collect stuff to the point where it's piling up and you're getting piles of junk in your house and most people in that situation have some kind of psychiatric disorder," said Dr. William Dale, professor of geriatrics, University of Chicago.

The city is going to court to seek an emergency order allowing workers to clean up the dangerous mess.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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