Woman hid 96-year-old mother’s body in freezer for nearly 2 years: prosecutors

Investigators also discovered a state ID card in Regina Michalski’s name — but bearing her daughter’s photo.

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Regina Michalski

Regina Michalski

Family

Two decades ago, as Sabrina Watson’s mother was about to go to prison, she gave her 14-year-old daughter a disconcerting order. 

If the girl’s grandmother should die, bury her under a different name, Eva Bratcher instructed, according to Watson. 

“And I said why? And she said, ‘Well if you bury her, idiot, under the name Regina Michalski, I won’t get her checks anymore, and I need those checks,’” Watson recalled.

Early this week, investigators discovered Michalski’s body in a deep freezer stored in the garage of a two-flat apartment building where she and Bratcher lived in Portage Park. 

The 96-year-old woman had apparently been dead for nearly two years. While prosecutors gave no motive for Bratcher hiding the death, they noted that an ID found in the home bore Bratcher’s photo but her mother’s name.

In addition to the false ID, investigators found a document in the home made to look like it was signed by Michalski — but dated after her apparent death, which Bratcher noted on a calendar as 2 p.m. on March 4, 2021. 

A receipt found in the house showed Bratcher purchased a freezer from Abt a week after her mother’s apparent death, prosecutors said. 

No cause of death has been determined yet, and prosecutors said the medical examiner’s office may need until the end of the week to completely thaw the body for the autopsy. 

Prosecutors said police were also still investigating whether Bratcher collected her mother’s Social Security checks or other benefits after her mother died. For now, she faces felony charges of concealing her mother’s death and possession of a fraudulent identification card. 

During a hearing Thursday, Judge David Kelly called the allegations “very disturbing” and said she would need to post a $20,000 bond to be released on electronic monitoring.

Bratcher’s defense attorney said she could afford a $5,000 bond but didn’t indicate if she would be able to come up with the extra money and, if so, when. 

She will be allowed to return to her building if she is released from jail, but the judge warned her about having “unlawful contact” with the other tenants of the building, who are potential witnesses. 

Michalski’s body was discovered after Watson, who lives in Kentucky, called police and asked them to conduct a well-being check.

“I just said, I’m calling [the police] and just having them do a welfare check,” said Watson, 38. “What could go wrong? Apparently, everything.”

Watson said she had scanned obituaries for years looking for her grandmother’s name. Michalski had not been in good health when Watson last saw her decades ago. 

Watson said her mother had blocked her number, and anytime she visited Chicago and stopped by the home, no one would answer.

Estranged for years, Watson at one point took a drastic step to warn people about dealing her mother: She created a Facebook page titled “Keep Eva Michalski/Bratcher in Prison.”

“This page is to alert ANYONE that knows Eva Michalski (aka Eva Bratcher, aka Ewa Michalska and probably other aliases) that she is a DANGEROUS CRIMINAL!” the page says.

Court records show Bratcher was sentenced to four years in prison in 2010 for forgery in Lake County.

In January 2006, she pleaded guilty to felony counts of forgery in two cases and was given concurrent sentences of six months in the Cook County Jail and two years’ probation. 

Later in 2006, she was found guilty of misdemeanor counts of battery and violating an order of protection in two other cases, and she was sentenced to concurrent, two-year probation terms.

Bratcher completed her probation sentences without fulfilling the requirements, and she pleaded guilty to violating the terms of her release, records show. She was then sentenced to concurrent two-year prison terms, though she had accrued a significant amount of time served.

She has also faced a range of charges that were dropped, including battery, assault, retail theft, criminal damage to property, and reckless and disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors said Bratcher hid her mother’s death from tenants in the building and neighbors by telling people her mother was in a nursing home.

One tenant, Brigitte Yanez, told the Sun-Times said she remembers a conversation she had with Bratcher a few months ago in which Bratcher talked about buying a gift for her mother.

“She would talk about her like she was still here,” Yanez said. “I would be very confused because she had told my dad [that her mother] was in a home in Wisconsin.”

Bratcher is expected back in court Feb. 21.

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