Florence Banta dead in trash chute, autopsy planned as residents raise concerns

Florence Banta

April 2, 2013 4:03:20 PM PDT
Residents reacted Tuesday to the news that an 80-year-old woman's body was found at the bottom of the trash chute at her Gold Coast building. An autopsy was scheduled Tuesday, as well, to determine exactly how the woman died.

The body of 80-year-old Florence Banta was found Monday at the bottom of the trash chute of her building near Astor and North Avenue in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

Banta's family and neighbors are wondering how she could have fallen to her death in a trash chute in a building where trash chutes are required to be protected with self-closing doors. Chicago police are in the middle of conducting a death investigation.

This is the second such death to happen in the building at 1555 N. Astor in the past 14 months.

Other residents of the Gold Coast building say it's hard to figure out how it happened given the dimensions of the chute, which is a 1 1/2 foot square, 4 feet off the ground.

"The only way you can get into is if you climb up on the bin and push yourself down," said building resident Sandy Mandell.

A building engineer found Banta's body on the ground level of the trash chute Monday morning. It's in the same building where a similar incident happened in February of last year.

Sixteen-year-old Charlie Manley, who had autism and Down syndrome, fell 47 floors down the chute to his death. While Manley's death was ruled accidental, the two cases are causing concern for neighbors.

"I kind of have a logical conclusion that there must be something else, because it takes a lot of gravity to lift a body of the ground into a trash chute and fall down it," said neighbor Mel Jones.

Family members reported Banta missing Saturday. They described her as a fragile woman who may have been suffering from anxiety.

Banta's grief-stricken daughter told The Chicago Tribune Tuesday that she last spoke to her mother at 8 p.m. Saturday.

The family was planning to pick Banta up for Easter brunch Sunday morning. When they knocked on her door, it was left ajar. Banta's coat, shoes, purse and wallet were all inside. When they couldn't find her, they called police.

Barbara Laken told the Tribune that her mother was such a clean and neat woman, "like Martha Stewart," every hair in place. "The thought of her landing in garbage," Laken said, "is unthinkable."

Laken says Banta was making plans to move out of the building and into another high-rise closer to the Mag Mile.

The family plans to bury their mother next to their father in North Carolina.

Statement from building management:

"1555 Astor Condominium has been cooperating with law enforcement officers and unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to provide you with any details associated with the incident. The safety and privacy of our residents and our community remains our top priority."