Ill. firefighters cut through roof to reach hoarder

Skokie firefighters sawed a hole in the top of the house in a three-hour recovery effort

By Rummana Hussain
The Chicago Sun-Times

SKOKIE, Ill. — If Steve Pauley had old furniture to discard, he'd throw it in a village dumpster — far away from the sights of his elderly neighbor who was known to scrounge through the trash cans along the dead end Skokie street.

Some heard Marie Davis would rummage for food in the middle of the night. And it wasn't uncommon to see the osteoporosis-stricken Davis take her friends' rancid waste back to the one-story burgundy brick home the 79-year-old shared with her middle-aged, mentally challenged daughter.

"We knew she was a pack rat. We just didn't know the extent of it," neighbor Pat Tischler said, reacting to the news that Davis' corpse was discovered resting atop a mountain of garbage that fire officials said was just one foot shy of the ceiling.

Davis, who authorities said died of heart disease, had to be carried through the roof Monday night after firefighters sawed a hole in the top of the house in a three-hour recovery effort, Skokie Deputy Fire Chief Barry Liss said. A few rescue workers broke down the front door and waded through the massive piles of garbage but realized they could not carry Davis' body back out because of the "floor-to-floor, wall-to-wall" debris, Liss said.

When officers got to the scene, Davis' daughter was sitting on top of a 6-foot pile of garbage inside the residence, in the 5400 block of Foster Street, police said.

"My Mommy's dead and I can't get her," the daughter, in her 50s, was heard wailing Monday evening, according to neighbors who called 911.

As firefighters carried Davis' nude body out, some tried to comfort Davis' adult child with a sandwich, assuring the woman that her mother was in "better place."

The daughter responded, "I don't want her with God. I want my Mommy with me," Tischler said.

On Tuesday, the daughter, Linda Young, was staying in Niles with her boyfriend.

"She's fine. She went to her psychiatrist," the boyfriend told the Sun-Times.

Davis lived in her home for more than three decades, neighbors said. She used to work as an Avon representative and had married and divorced a now deceased Skokie police commander, who would send patrol cars to check on her well after their marriage crumbled.

Neighbors said an "awful" stench followed the reclusive Davis wherever she went. They also admitted they were afraid to go inside the home, surrounded by unruly shrubbery, two trash-filled cars and old clothes strewn across the lawn. But they only spoke of affection for Davis, who they said would rescue stray animals and alert them when their children's cars were vandalized.

"She was a very, very, very kind soul," said Steve Pauley's wife, Cathy.

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