Town learns sobering story of woman who died unnoticed in August

February 12, 2010
by Christine Yeres

Triggered by a call last Thursday, February 4, from Jane Wild’s Florida-based lawyer asking New Castle police to check on her welfare, at 4:50 p.m. the police, with the assistance of the Chappaqua Fire Department, broke into the white Cape Cod on Bedford Road and discovered that the 78-year-old woman had died. The county medical examiner estimated that her death had occurred six months ago.  Wild, a retired New York City school teacher, had moved to New Castle in 1968 with a sister who died in 1985. Neither was married or had children.

According to New Castle Police Detective Sergeant James Wilson, “Wild’s Florida lawyer contacted a local attorney to visit the house to check on her.  When he had no response, he called us.”  The police tried doors and windows, which were shaded, checked with neighboring houses, but no one had seen or heard from Wild.  Given the woman’s age, said Wilson, police decided to enter by force, calling on the Chappaqua Fire Department.  She was found on the floor of a second story bathroom. The county’s medical examiner’s office sent an investigator who took charge of her skeletal remains, too little from which to determine the cause of death.

Police have since learned that water, telephone and power bills had gone unpaid for months. In fact, said Wilson, the power was finally turned off the very day police discovered her death, February 4.  It had snowed a few days before, and it was obvious, said Wilson, that someone had plowed the driveway.  Police tracked down a landscaper who told detectives that when Wild did not call him for a fall yard clean up he assumed, given her age, that she had gone to a nursing home or hospital. He did the work, kept a bill running and collected only a few times a year. The house was tidy, Wilson reported, and there were some foodstuffs in the fridge.

Police continue to investigate, calling people whose names and numbers Wild left on an emergency contact list. Wilson said he believes that Wild had a male friend who visited occasionally, but that he had died last summer.

A one-day trial of Meals-on-Wheels, but Wild wanted little contact

Saddened to hear of Wild’s death, Frances DiMase, a social worker for the Town of New Castle’s Seniors’ Program, recalled that Wild had signed up in January of 2008 for the town’s “Meals-on-Wheels” program, received one day’s worth of meals, then canceled that same day, claiming that it was too much food. 

“I had the feeling that it was more the fact that a person delivers it, than the food,” said DiMase.  She added that Wild wasn’t interested in signing up for the town’s “R-U-OK” program, a computer-generated call to seniors between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. every day. Recipients confirm that they are, in fact, “OK,” by pressing the number 1.  If they fail to do so, the computer calls a second time and, unless the number 1 is pressed, an alert is issued at the senior center, the perfect program for someone like Wild living alone, said DiMase. 

Town programs that can help

DiMase has dashed out to check on residents who don’t answer the R-U-OK call—only to find that it was a false alarm.  Sometimes residents are simply away and failed to notify the senior center, but the mistakes are worth it, she said.  “People forget to notify us, the alert comes in, I check with New Castle police to confirm that the person didn’t go out in an ambulance the night before, then go with them to check.  On a couple of occasions the police have broken in for us.  Once, we found a person who’d had a stroke and was alive. Another time we entered to check on someone who was sound asleep and wasn’t too thrilled to wake to see two policemen standing over him. Once, we had a person who was stranded in the bathtub the night before and just waited, knowing the call would come in the morning and we’d find her.”

“In [Jane Wild’s] case,” suggested DiMase, “it seems that all the people she knew had died and she didn’t reach out to make a connection and nobody got to her.”

For people who call 9-1-1 in need of an ambulance, whether elderly or in some other way in need of social services, Chappaqua Volunteer Ambulance Corps crew members give patients brochures inviting them to contact the town’s social worker, explained CVAC board chairperson, Gail Oestreicher, a CVAC EMT and registered nurse. Depending on the conditions they witness at the home, said Oestreicher, “when the ambulance crew turn over care of the patient to hospital emergency department personnel, they inform nurses that they believe the patient could be in need of some social services.”

Post office should report untouched mail to police

Supervisor Barbara Gerrard encourages older residents to sign up for the strong support programs offered by the town, and pinpointed the weak spot in Wild’s case: Whether Wild wished to be left alone or no, the fact that her mail remained untouched in her mailbox should have triggered an alert from the post office to the New Castle police.  After hearing of Wild’s death, Gerrard immediately asked New Castle Police Chief Charles Ferry to contact the heads of all three post offices serving residents of New Castle—Chappaqua, Mt. Kisco and Pleasantville—and ask them to treat untouched mail as a red flag, requiring notification to the police. Postal workers in Chappaqua heard this message from their postmaster at the beginning of this week, reported one mail carrier.  “When the mail piles up, we’re supposed to tell [the postmaster],” he said, “and he’ll tell the police.” 

Find out who lives near you and reach out

Hearing of Wild’s case, Tom Lenhart, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Chappaqua, said, “It’s such a sad situation.  Despite the fact that we’re so connected in so many new ways nowadays, electronically and otherwise, in some of the traditional ways we’re less connected than ever, as geographic neighborhoods have lost some of the focus.  This is a reminder for all communities that within the community we need to reach out, because no one should be alone in the way that this woman apparently was.” 

Neighbors can help by information an elderly neighbor about the town’s programs, or informing the town about an older resident that may need help.

Under the “Recreation and Parks” page of the town’s website is a “Senior Programs” page with links to Westchester County’s Senior Special Needs Registry as well as information on a Senior Car Fit Program.  To learn more about Senior Support Services offered by the town, such as information and referrals, the telephone reassurance “R-U-OK”  program, local errands, shopping, transportation, call Frances DiMase, LMSW, at 238-2093.  Her office is located in the lower level of the Community Center on Senter Street, a cozy club with easy chairs, a kitchen and a piano.  Click HERE to view the Senior Center’s newsletter for February 2010.

Senior Supportive Services, as listed on the town’s website:

The Senter Street Club

Located in the lower level of the Community Center. Fresh and healthy snacks are available in a serene homelike setting throughout the day.  Programs and special lectures are scheduled regularly. A free Internet connection, puzzles and newspapers are available for seniors.


Intergenerational Activities: Volunteer with At-Risk Youth

Join an energetic, dedicated group of residents 60 and over for a monthly visit to the Hawthorne Cedar Knolls School. Share your time and caring with adolescent children, participate in a recreational activity and make a difference in their lives. This program is held the second Wednesday of the month at 3:30 p.m. at the school. For information, please contact Roslyn Robinson at the Recreation Office at 238-6391.


Door-to-Door Transportation

If you are no longer driving or are ready to give up driving, please consider using the town’s senior transportation services.  Transportation is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays for doctor appointments, shopping, personal errands, etc.  Please call 238-8888, two or three days in advance to request service.  A contribution of $3.00 is requested on Tuesday and Thursday for all destinations, except the Community Center, for which the contribution is $2.00. 

Telephone Re-Assurance: “Are You OK?”

This is not just a question; it is the name of a computerized telephone reassurance program. The Town of New Castle offers this daily service to seniors at no cost. If you live alone, this is an important service that you should consider. Each morning you will receive a phone call.  If you are unable to answer the phone, an alert is issued.  Then the necessary steps will be taken to check on your safety and provide the required assistance. 


Home Delivered Meals Program

This service provides up to two meals a day for any person age 60 or older who is unable to meet his or her nutritional needs because of difficulty in shopping or preparing meals.  This program is available on a temporary or ongoing basis.  For home delivered meals, please call 238-2093. 

Smoke Detector Battery Replacement Program

If you are unable to change the battery in your smoke detector or if you have a smoke detector that is more than 10 years old and you are unable to purchase a new one, please call Frances at 238-2093.  The Millwood, Chappaqua and Mount Kisco Volunteer Fire Departments have kindly offered to help seniors with this problem.

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