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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Elderly Evanston woman found living with bodies of 3 siblings

|Tribune reporters

Bodies found in Evanston home

Evanston emergency personnel work at the scene where three dead bodies were found in the 1200 block of Judson Avenue in Evanston, Ill. Authorities, including a City of Evanston Senior Advocate, responded to the home in the 1200 block of Judson Avenue about 10:15 a.m. and met with an elderly woman who told them the three, all of whom were her relatives, had been dead for some time. (Tribune photo by David Banks / November 7, 2008)

Updates at Chicago Breaking News Center

The bodies of three elderly siblings thought to have been dead "for some time" were discovered Friday in a home where a fourth sibling also lived in a quiet Evanston neighborhood, police said.

A preliminary investigation showed no signs of foul play, said police Cmdr. Thomas Guenther, adding that the bodies were found in different parts of the rambling, two-story home, and that some were covered with blankets.

"They all could have passed away on different time periods over a period of time," Guenther said. "That has to be determined."

Officials did not release the names, ages or sexes of the deceased. Autopsies were scheduled for Saturday.

Police were called to the home in the 1200 block of Judson Avenue about 10:15 a.m. Friday, where they met with an elderly woman who lived there. She was described as a longtime resident who apparently was in contact with an Evanston senior advocate and a family lawyer, one of whom called police, Guenther said.

The resident, who is cooperating with police, is "upwards of 90 years of age" and has been taken to a nearby facility for care, he said.

Neighbors said that they had not noticed anything unusual at the home. Most often, they said they saw a woman they knew as Margaret tending her garden. Last week, she was giving out Halloween candy, said Caroline Carlton, who lives across the street.

"It's really sad," said Carlton, who said she hasn't seen anyone besides Margaret at the house since summer 2007.

Neighbors said that they were aware of at least three people—two women and a man—who lived in the home.

According to Cook County public records, the owner of the property is Frank A. Bernstorff.

A Tribune obituary said Frank A. Bernstorff, 94, a retired assistant professor of German at Northwestern University, lived at the home and died in 1966. He was survived by his wife, Lilian, who died in 1974. The other survivors were a son, Frank, and three daughters: Margaret, Anita and Elaine, according to the obituary.

The Evanston Police Department, North Regional Crimes Task Force and the Cook County medical examiner's office are investigating.

Police remained at the home much of Friday collecting evidence, Guenther said.

"It's a nice looking-home," Carlton said. "I know that's been their family home for years."

Another neighbor, Dan Bloedorn, said he frequently observed an elderly woman tending to her garden, but he thought she lived alone.

Freelance reporter Brian Cox and Tribune reporter Lisa Black also contributed to this report.