‘She didn’t deserve to go that way.’ Body of 96-year-old woman found in freezer in Portage Park

The woman was discovered about 4:35 p.m. Monday in the 5500 block of West Melrose, police said. She was identified by a relative as Regina Michalski.

SHARE ‘She didn’t deserve to go that way.’ Body of 96-year-old woman found in freezer in Portage Park

Piles of trash can be seen outside the building Tuesday where 96-year-old Regina Michalski was found in a freezer Monday in the 5500 block of West Melrose in Portage Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

On a Northwest Side block of otherwise tidy brick bungalows and two flats, one home near the middle of the street stands out.

Bundles of yellowed newspapers are piled up on the front steps. Half a dozen grocery store carts filled with crumpled beer cans line one side of the building. Signs warn the uninvited to stay away.

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But it’s what was inside the home — or rather, the garage — that had people on this Portage Park neighborhood block talking Tuesday morning.

“I was planning to go to work today, but honestly, I don’t think I can drive now,” said a shaken Dany Flores, 53.

Like others living in the 5500 block of West Melrose, Flores learned that police had retrieved the body of a 96-year-old woman from a freezer in the garage behind the property strewn with so much trash. 

The woman was discovered about 4:35 p.m. Monday and was pronounced dead at the scene, Chicago police said. She was identified by a relative as Regina Michalski.

Regina Michalski

Undated photo of Regina Michalski


Neighbors say police escorted Michalski’s daughter away from the property minutes after discovering the body. The mother and daughter had lived together for years on the first floor of the two-flat, and the daughter was the building’s landlord, neighbors said. 

But those same neighbors said they hadn’t seen Michalski in several years.

The daughter had told conflicting stories in recent months: that her mother was in a nursing home in another state; that she was still living at home and doing fine; that she’d died.

Martha Yanez, 60, has lived next door to the daughter for several years. She was friendly but never invited Yanez into her home.

“She didn’t let me go in,” Yanez said, speaking through an interpreter. “She didn’t want any visitors.”

Hector Yanez, 42, Martha Yanez’s son, lives with his daughter on the second floor of the two-flat where Michalski’s body was found. He said he was there when police arrived Monday afternoon. Police told him they were following up on an out-of-state call from a relative of the dead woman. 

Hector Yanez described his landlady as “very nice” but “kind of weird.”

Hector Yanez’s daughter, Brigitte Yanez, said city inspectors had come several times in recent months to inquire about the trash piled up outside the house. 

The trash on Tuesday included several boxes from a pet supply company. While Brigitte Yanez was talking to a reporter, a FedEx van arrived and dropped off yet another box. 


Brigitte Yanez stands outside her apartment building, where a 96-year-old women was found in a freezer in the 5500 block of West Melrose in Portage Park Tuesday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Brigitte Yanez said she remembers a conversation she had with her landlord a couple of months ago in which the landlord talked about buying a gift for her mother.

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

One of Michalski’s grandchildren, Diane Michalski, lives in Niles. She told the Sun-Times that she used to live above her grandmother at the West Melrose address.

Diane Michalski said her grandmother was a Polish immigrant who spent most of her life working for Motorola.

“I remember being a kid, and she’d bring some work home and show me the little technology and all the little intricate details that she had to do for her job” Michalski said. “I mean, if you want to talk about women in STEM, she was it.”

Diane Michalski, who said she hadn’t seen her grandmother or aunt in 20 years, added: “She didn’t deserve to go that way.”

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