FILLMORE, Ill. — Margie Wade lay face down, her right arm crooked under her cheek. She was too weak to lift her head.
Wade wore only a shirt. Her legs were straight out and pressed together. Her eyes were open, glazed and unblinking. She could no longer feel the roaches that crawled over her in the bedroom of her stifling home.
After at least a year without medical care, and suffering from months of neglect, the 59-year-old woman's body was so rigid it appeared to a 911 medical response team that rigor mortis had set in, according to a police report.
Medics Lillian McKinney, Teresa Reeves and Theresa Chambers thought Wade surely must be dead. The women fought not to vomit from the stench of human feces that had caused two first responders to flee the room -- a firefighter who bent over and gagged on the front lawn and a cop who ran out the back door shouting, "It would be better if she was dead."
McKinney brushed at roaches, sending them scurrying. Some hid in Wade's hair. The medic prodded Wade's cool skin with a pinlike device, a standard method to determine whether a person can react to pain. There was no reaction. She couldn't find a pulse.
Chambers picked up the folding cot she brought to carry Wade and, stepping over garbage and trash, started to make her way back to the ambulance to get a body bag. She stopped when Reeves shouted, "Don't leave with the cot. She's breathing!"
'Stinks in there'
It was May 27, 2003. Margie's husband, Leonard D. Wade, called 911 because he thought his wife was dying.
Reports from the ambulance attendants and police were detailed. Witnesses said she was neglected by her husband, who refused to call for medical treatment and often left her in the care of a severely mentally impaired daughter. He told a neighbor he didn't want a big hospital bill.
The details of the four months Margie Wade endured in the bedroom, often unattended for days at a time, unable to move, were available to investigators. But investigators for the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services closed the case on that same day -- just hours after Wade died in the Hillsboro Area Hospital intensive care unit and three hours after the agency learned from an emergency room nurse's call to its own hotline that Wade was suspected of having been neglected and abused.
The OIG invoked its standing rule at the time: The dead are "ineligible for services," which included investigating the circumstances of a disabled adult's death. The police were on their own.
Montgomery County Undersheriff Rick Robbins and Sheriff's Department Investigator Bruce Sanford tried to interview Margie Wade in the emergency room as she breathed through an oxygen mask. Her only response was a single groan.
She was smeared with feces and had several infected, deep bedsores and dozens of other lesions that alarmed hospital workers.
Later that day, sheriff's investigators brought in Leonard Wade, 60, for questioning.
Robbins and Sanford wanted to know why Wade hadn't taken his wife of 35 years to a hospital or nursing home. They wanted to know why she hadn't been moved for days. And they wanted to know how Leonard Wade could afford to buy a relatively new pickup truck and Jeep plus two antique tractors for his collection but didn't have money to pay for medical care for his dying wife.
"There was a plastic bedcover, and she was molded to it," Robbins told the News-Democrat. "They had to peel it off her."
Wade insisted he couldn't afford medical care beyond paying for his wife's insulin, which their impaired daughter injected as her mother's only caregiver. Wade said he wouldn't go into his wife's bedroom.
"Stinks in there," he said.
Wade could not be reached for comment for this story. He since has moved to Chillicothe, Mo., where in January he was charged with two felony counts of attempted sexual misconduct of a child younger than 15. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bond.
'It'll take care of itself'
A neighbor, Georgiadean Lill, said Leonard Wade told her that Margie refused to be taken to a hospital. Wade had no answer during his interrogation for why he let his wife's Medicaid card expire, which cut her off from necessary services such as refilling the machine that pumped oxygen into her lungs. He said he called the Medicaid office and left a message but no one called back.
Lill's husband, John, who had known Leonard Wade since they were in the military nearly 45 years ago, said Wade often told him he hoped when he went somewhere, Margie would be dead when he returned.
John Lill told Robbins and Sanford that two weeks before Margie Wade died, her daughter came over to say her mother wouldn't wake up. John Lill followed her back to the house and found Margie Wade unconscious, with feces running down her backside.
The next day, according to the sheriff investigators' report, an angry Lill confronted Wade, asking whether he had gotten his wife cleaned up. Wade replied, "It'll take care of itself."
"I told him 'it' was not an animal, but a human being," Lill said.
A question about some odd, parallel striations or scratches found by a medical examiner on his wife's side at her waist greatly disturbed the investigators. Wade admitted the marks were made by a kitchen broom.
"I would use the broom to caress her, to get her attention," he said. He said he would then ask her to stop moaning and yelling at night so he could sleep.
Their daughter, who slept in a small bed next to her mother, told Robbins and Sanford in a separate interview, "Dad 'whacked' Mom with a broom to shut her up so he could get some sleep."
On the day his wife died, authorities charged Leonard Wade with felony abuse or neglect of a disabled person. Another friend posted the $5,000 bond needed for his release from jail.
A weakened case
An autopsy by pathologist Dr. William K. Drake attributed Margie Wade's death to pneumonia, uremic poisoning, dehydration, a rapidly deteriorating muscular disease that left her unable to move, and severe diabetes. There were no conclusions on whether neglect or abuse hastened her death.
Montgomery County Sheriff's Investigator Rick Furlong said he believes the failure to link the circumstances surrounding Wade's death to the medical findings weakened the Sheriff's Department's case against Leonard Wade. He said the OIG investigators could have helped with this, given their years of experience.
"We could have used some help with this," Furlong said, when asked whether an OIG investigation might have helped get at the truth. "The outcome was disappointing."
On Jan. 18, 2005, Leonard Wade pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of neglect and received a conditional discharge, three days in jail and 50 hours of community service.
"There was nothing in the autopsy report to indicate neglect," Furlong said. "But obviously there was neglect. ... He (Wade) should be in prison."
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at email@example.com or 239-2625.