Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March 21: Collyer Brothers ... the original "hoarders"

On this date in History .... March 21, 1947:

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The phrase “The Collyer Brothers” becomes synonymous with “hoarding” when New York police break into the brothers’ home on the tip of a dead body being in there.  Unable to break the door down, they unhinged the door and removed it, only to find a solid wall of packed boxes and rubbish.  They eventually had to climb in through a second story window where they found Homer Collyer’s dead body. 

About 120 to 140 tons of garbage and trash was removed from the house, including over 25,000 books, pickled human organs in jars, 14 pianos, and a Model T chassis.  

Homer and Langley Collyer were smart and talented.  Both attended college.  Homer practiced law and Langley was an accomplished concert pianist and had even played at Carnegie Hall.  After their parents’ death, the brothers began to shut themselves up in their brownstone. Langley used his engineering degree knowledge to rig up booby traps because of some attempted break-ins.

Homer developed cataracts but the brothers decided with their doctor-father’s 15,000 medical books in the house, they could take care of Homer themselves.  They became more and more introverted.  Utilities were completely disconnected by 1928. Langley would fetch water for them at a pump in a nearby park.  They tried to heat the large home with a kerosene heater.

When police found Homer’s body, they suspected Langley had called in the anonymous tip and then fled.  But when Langley failed to show up at his brother’s funeral a few days later, police suspected he may also be dead. Homer was found just 10 hours after he died, which seemed to be too short of a time span for the smell of decomposition to filter through the hoarded home and generate a phone call to the police.

Eight days later, while clearing the house, Langley’s body was found, just ten feet from where Homer had died. The new theory was that Langley was crawling through one of the tunnels in the home and had tripped one of his own booby traps, causing debris to come crashing down on him and killing him on around March 9.  Because Langley was now dead, Homer, blind and helpless, starved to death about two weeks later.

The brothers are buried in unmarked graves. The home was torn down within the year.

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