Trash-filled home to be cleared by crews

May 26, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The husband and wife remained in critical condition Wednesday.

The city could file an emergency motion to get inside and clean up the mess in the 1500-block of East 69th Street. Despite all of the junk, the building is structurally sound and will not be condemned.

"I would usually see him every day, and I said something is strange. I said I haven't seen him in over a week or maybe longer," said David Oatis, friend.

When Oatis did not see Jesse Gaston for several days, he tried to get inside.

"The padlocks were on the door, and I said they must be gone," said Oatis.

Without any luck getting in, he said he had his daughter call 911 Monday evening.

Jesse Gaston's cousin stopped by the home Wednesday morning as she was heading to the hospital to visit.

"All I know is the neighbors have more concern about each other after this," said Mary J. Tyler, cousin.

The couple was taken to Jackson Park Hospital and has been listed in critical condition. Jesse Gaston is on life support, though both have reportedly been improving.

Rosie Funches said she was shocked to see how her brother and sister-in-law were living. Bugs and rats infested their South Side home. The stench from the trash piled from the floor to the ceiling was unbearable. She says her 76-year-old brother Jesse Gaston is a college-educated former chemist. His wife, Thelma, is a 79-year-old former schoolteacher.

"They could have paid somebody to keep their house," Funches said.

A concerned neighbor who hadn't seen the couple for some time called police Monday. When police arrived that night, they found the Gastons trapped under piles of trash.

"He was trying to rescue her, and the trash fell on him. And so they had been like that in that position for, like, the past three weeks," said neighbor Andrea Adams.

Relatives say the couple did not have children and kept to themselves. Their privacy is what prevented Funches from calling police, she said. She had gone to the home, but the couple didn't answer the door.

"I was there, and I wish I would have known because I could have done something about it," Funches said.

Firefighters who entered the home had to wear hazardous materials suits. Emergency workers had to break down a door to get inside.

"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 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.

"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 Streets and Sanitation, and they never made him clean it up," said neighbor Hattie C. Fields.

"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.

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