www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-nyt-unnoticed-death-webdec05,1,5318024.story chicagotribune.com Neighbors reflect on woman's death no one noticed By Andy Newman New York Times News Service 2:11 AM CST, December 5, 2007 NEW YORK For the last years of her life, Christina Copeman kept to herself. She stopped answering the door shortly after her estranged husband died in 1990. She turned away from her friends and neighbors in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, ignoring their hellos. So when Copeman dropped out of sight altogether, people were not immediately suspicious. Perhaps she had gone back to Trinidad for a vacation, they said. Maybe she had gotten sick there, or decided to stay. That was a year and a half ago. Outside Copeman's tidy brick row house on East 92nd Street, the days grew longer and shorter again. Mail piled up in the vestibule behind the glass front door. Neighbors collected trash from her porch so she would not get summonses. Copeman was upstairs, dead, curled in a fetal position in the hallway, where the police found her skeletal remains on Monday morning, said Peter Bishop, her nephew. She was dressed to go out, in a coat and a beret, Bishop said. "Winter clothes on," he said Tuesday, "so I guess she died in the winter." Copeman had died of heart disease, the medical examiner said Tuesday. The police said she had been dead between a year and 18 months. It seems impossible for a person to fall through the cracks like that, to die in her own home and go undiscovered. New York is a big city, but it is impersonal only at a distance. People have neighbors. They have relatives. But Christina Copeman, who would be 70 if she were alive today, managed to slip away almost by sheer force of will. "It's a shame," said her next-door neighbor Ruby Fulmer, 92, a retired nursing professor who said she had been calling 311 for more than a year trying to figure out how to solve the mystery of Copeman. "But I think it's also part of the way she lived the last few years of her life." Althea Bishop, who is Copeman's sister-in-law,said she could not figure out how to get help for her. "What am I going to do, call the cops and say there's a lady inside who doesn't want to talk?" she said. "If she couldn't walk or see or hear, it would be one thing. But she was fine. She just didn't want to deal with us." Another neighbor, Dolores Harvey, said she had called the local precinct, the 67th, in summer 2006 after smelling an intermittent foul odor from Copeman's house, but that two officers who went to the house the next day told her they smelled nothing amiss. "They said that if she had passed away in the house we would have smelled it," said Harvey, 49. "They said there was nothing to do; they couldn't break down the door." The police department's chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said Tuesday that the police had reviewed the last 20 months of records and found no calls to Copeman's address until Saturday, when the police checked on her at Peter Bishop's request but did not break down the door. When Peter Bishop accompanied the police to the house on Monday, they forced their way in and found her inside, Browne said. Copeman, who emigrated from Trinidad as a teenager and worked for years at a bank in Manhattan, was a quiet woman to begin with, her relatives and neighbors said. "She just liked to work, and come home, didn't have too many friends coming over," said Peter Bishop, 50, who lived with the Copemans in the 1970s. "Maybe watch a little TV. She read love stories." After her husband, Joseph Copeman, left her in the 1980s, she grew more withdrawn and depressed, Fulmer said. Then Joseph Copeman and Christina Copeman's father died in quick succession. Soon, Fulmer said, "she stopped talking to everybody. I'd see her right on the front step and say 'Hello, Christine' and she'd turn her head. If you saw her coming halfway down the block and said 'Hey Christine, wait up,' she'd roll her eyes and turn the other way." Althea Bishop said she last spoke to Copeman in about 1991. "She stood behind the curtain and she talked through the door. 'I'm fine, you all could leave now.'" Bishop recalled her saying. Subsequent visits from the Bishops were greeted with either silence or a call to the police, she said. Fulmer said she last saw Copeman alive sometime in 2005. "She was wearing a coat, kind of sweeping around her front porch," Fulmer said. "She didn't talk to me then, either." Another neighbor, Lester Watson, said he ran into Copeman on the street around the fall of 2005. "She told me she was going away for a little while," he said. Months passed. Bills came and went unpaid. Con Edison officials said that they canceled Copeman's account last year but left her power on, and that there had been no power use at the home for more than a year. The pile of unclaimed mail grew, puzzling neighbors. A spokeswoman for the postal service, Patricia McGovern, said that while mail carriers often take it upon themselves to notify the authorities when a customer does not seem to be collecting the mail, there is no requirement that they do so. In 2006, Copeman's roof began leaking into Fulmer's house. Fulmer called 311. The Department of Buildings sent an inspector who documented the house's condition in impressive detail. "Large holes in roofing paper at various locations on roof," the report reads. "Flashing at sides broken. Large holes observed. Facia board rotten at front of building." The department issued Copeman a violation in April 2007. "Remedy," it said: "Make safe immediate repair." The yellow violation notice fluttered in the cold breeze on Copeman's front porch Tuesday, half-buried beneath phone books and business cards and fliers for furniture sales long past.