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Top 10 Hoarders Who Were Killed By Their Own Hoard

by Reedlyn Sperlich
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Hoarding is an increasing problem in today’s society. Media such as TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive and news outlets have brought its reality to public. Hoarding can increase the risk to both public health and safety. Some hoarding homes exude unhealthy amounts of trash and vermin, while others are giant tinderboxes. Some hoarders have sought help and partially resolved their problem, seeking to live normally. But what happens when they don’t? Here are ten people who were killed by their own hoard.

10 Alcabre Man

Photo credit: Faro de Vigo/J. Lores

Hoarding has been tied to several disorders, such as Diogenes syndrome or obsessive-compulsive disorder. These ailments can cause the sufferer to compulsively collect things and neglect themselves and their surroundings. Hoarding has been seen in many countries and in many different people.

In Alcabre, Spain, a 51-year-old man was found dead in 2016, after having been crushed by garbage in his home. He was a compulsive hoarder. A friend contacted police after the man hadn’t been heard from for a few days. His home was filled with piles of trash. Some of these piles were so high that one collapsed and crushed the man against a door. The amount of garbage was so great that authorities had difficulty entering the home to retrieve the body.[1]

9 Alicante Family

Three members of a family in Alicante, Spain, were killed when the upper floor of their home collapsed in January 2017. Unlike other hoarders, this family only hoarded clothing. They owned so much, however, that the weight of the apparel caused part of the upstairs to collapse. It and the mass of clothing fell onto the parents and their 12-year-old daughter as they slept.

The older daughter, age 18, found their bodies buried under piles of clothes. Oddly enough, neither she nor the neighbors heard the collapse, so the family wasn’t discovered until a few hours after the accident occurred. Police had to remove large amounts of clothing before they could reach the bodies.[2]

8 Thomas John Harris

Thomas John Harris was a 60-year-old man who lived alone in Stacey, Minnesota. He was known to hoard large amounts of literature. He kept every flyer and magazine he ever received. Due to his obsession, Harris had a very estranged relationship with his family. His home was full of stacks of paper, blocking all exits except a back door.

When Harris’s home caught fire in 2012, it was engulfed almost immediately. Firefighters couldn’t enter the house because of the blaze’s ferocity, and fighting the fire was almost impossible. Even sticking hoses through the windows proved ineffective, as they were blocked by the stacks of paper. The house eventually collapsed, and Harris’s body was found among the debris.[3]

7 Dennis Walsby

Photo credit: SOLENT

Dennis Walsby, 74 years old, was nicknamed a “human hamster” by the media due to the circumstances in which his body was found. Walsby had been living alone in his Southampton home for years since he and his wife divorced. Relatives believed he was an alcoholic and rarely saw him. When authorities entered his home in 2014, they found garbage and piles of paper stacked to the ceiling.

Walsby’s decomposing body was found in an apparently deliberately fashioned “nest” among the clutter. He had been dead for about eight months, the cause of death being a head injury. It is assumed that the elderly man tripped on his clutter and died from his injuries.[4]

6 Charles E. Nightingale

Photo credit: Nicole Norfleet

Charles E. Nightingale was a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran who lived alone in St. Paul, Minnesota. Nightingale was a corpsman (essentially a medic) and survived a helicopter collision in 1967. He was known as a collector of antiques, but his home was filled with more than just collectibles. It was packed to the ceiling with garbage and clutter. Neighbors weren’t aware of the extent of his hoarding and thought of him as a nice, quiet man who worked laboriously on his rock garden.

Nightingale was killed in 2013, when his clutter caught fire. The blaze quickly spread through the home. Nightingale’s body was found near the entrance. It appeared that he had tried to escape his hoard but became overwhelmed by the smoke and perished before he could make his way out. Firefighters were able to reach his body after extinguishing the fire and cutting a new entryway into the structure.[5]

5 Marie Rose

Marie Rose was a 59-year-old obsessive hoarder who piled up clothes and garbage in her home in Shelton, Washington. She was known to regularly shop at thrift stores and had accumulated several tons of items. In 2006, while she was cleaning an area of her spare bedroom, a pile of clutter collapsed onto Marie.

She wasn’t discovered until hours after her husband, Gerald, realized she was missing. The house was such a mess that not even he could find her. Police had to crawl over piles of clutter to search for her. Marie’s body was found after a second search of the home. She had suffocated underneath her clutter.[6]

4 James Shields

Photo credit: WSYX

James Shields Jr. lived alone in his Ohio home after the death of his wife. The 84-year-old man had collected large amounts of clutter that had piled up and now blocked most windows and entrances. Shields had accumulated so many things that it was difficult to move through the home. His family knew that he liked to collect and keep most things he made.

When a fire started in Shields’s home in 2014, it spread almost immediately through the garbage and paper clutter. As in other cases, the piles of clutter made it impossible for firefighters to enter the home. They were unable to reach the elderly man, and he died in the fire. After the fire was extinguished, the firefighters were able to pull things from the house and make a path to Shields’s body.[7]

3 Billie Jean James

Photo credit: Associated Press

In 2010, a woman known as a peace activist and compulsive hoarder went missing. Billie Jean James was 67 and lived with her husband in Las Vegas. She frequently shopped at thrift stores and sales. Billie refused to let anyone into her home because she was aware of how much of a mess it was. The house was so cluttered that the couple only had small pathways to move around. Then Billie went missing suddenly and wasn’t heard from for four months. Police searched the home multiple times with dogs but didn’t find anything. The searchers claimed that the odors and mess in the house accounted for the dogs’ failure.

After the search dogs had failed to find Billie’s body, her husband was shocked to find her buried under a pile of clutter. She had been in the home the whole time. Billie’s family feared that she might have suffered a stroke and, in her disoriented state, caused a pile of clutter to fall and bury her. Many mourned her death, including her friends, family, and people in the community who knew her. Billie was very active in her community, unlike other hoarders.[8]

2 Beverly Mitchell

In 2014, 66-year-old Beverly Mitchell died when the first floor of her Cheshire, Connecticut, home collapsed into the basement. Beverly suffocated, unable to escape the pile of debris. She had been a reclusive hoarder, living alone in a house filled with garbage and clutter. She had previously sought help to clean up her property but had fallen back into hoarding more and more things. Beverly had received complaints about the smell and garbage that came from her land. The amount of clutter that had accumulated in her home eventually led to structural stress. While Beverly was in the basement, the first floor suddenly collapsed from the weight.

She was discovered about a week after her death. A postal worker had alerted the authorities after her mail started to pile up. Upon entering the home, rescuers realized there was structural damage and that an accident had occurred. They assumed that Beverly had been trapped by the collapsed floor and began to search for her. A backhoe had to remove piles of debris and garbage before her body was found.[9]

1 The Collyer Brothers

In the 1940s, two brothers lived as recluses in their Harlem mansion. The older brother, Homer Collyer, had gone blind in 1933, and his younger brother, Langley Collyer, took care of him. Langley hoped to some day restore Homer’s sight and had begun collecting newspapers for him to read once he could see. Over the years, these papers started to pile up and were joined by garbage and clutter. Junk filled every room of the mansion. Langley only left the house at night to find food for Homer and himself, usually going to great lengths to buy the cheapest food possible. Langley was scared of intruders and burglars, so he set booby traps among the clutter. These traps, however, led to the brothers’ deaths.

In 1947, Langley was crushed when he set off a trap while bringing food to his brother. Homer, who wasn’t far away, must have heard this happen, but he could do nothing to help his brother and later died of starvation. When the brothers hadn’t been heard from for some time, authorities entered the home by putting holes in the roof and walls. The brothers’ bodies were discovered along with their large collection of junk. Police began emptying the mansion by throwing items to the street below.[10]

I’m a novice writer who enjoys researching history and weird and odd occurrences. When looking for information for my writing, I always find interesting tidbits and weird trivia. My main focus is history and weird/”out of the ordinary” people.


Read about more strange ways people have died on 10 Bizarre Recent Stories Of Accidental Death and 10 Truly Unusual Human Deaths.

fact checked by Jamie Frater