The 90-year-old couple kept the framed photographs on a living room wall above their flat-screen TV — a reminder of the two children they lost many years ago to cancer.
On Tuesday morning, those photographs remained on the wall, but blackened by smoke, above a TV warped by the heat of a “suspicious” fire that killed the elderly couple overnight in their West Garfield Park home.
“There is a possibility that it is something other than accidental, based on the evidence that was found,” said Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford, declining to say more.
Firefighters reached the brick two-flat — a place Lewis and Aldonia White had called home for decades — shortly after 3 a.m. They found the fire in the kitchen, on the second floor. Lewis White’s body was in the dining room. She was “slumped over” in a chair in the kitchen, something Chicago Fire Deputy Chief Charles Maes described as “unusual,” suggesting it would have been more likely to find someone trying to flee.
There were no working smoke detectors in the home, according to fire investigators.
The Whites were pronounced dead on the scene, in the 4000 block of West Wilcox. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office said autopsies have been tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.
Chicago Police had been called in to investigate.
“I’m kind of appalled to hear that because I didn’t know who would want to harm a 90-year-old couple,” said Idessa Hoffman, 47, a niece of the Whites, who lives on the South Side.
As a circular saw buzzed through plywood to cover the two-flat’s shattered windows late Tuesday morning, tears welled in the eyes of Bernetta Sigler, the couple’s caregiver for the last four years.
Sigler said she last saw the couple, both of whom used walkers to navigate their home, Monday evening — fried chicken night in the Whites’ home.
The couple lived on the second floor of their brick two-flat, rarely leaving their home. The lower level was unoccupied, Hoffman said.
Both were in good spirits before she left, Sigler said, adding she certainly had no reason to fear they might come to harm.
Most mornings, you’d find the couple sitting in their matching brown-leather recliners, eating eggs and grits and watching “The Price Is Right” on the TV in the living room, Sigler said.
“They loved eggs and grits. I’d say, ‘Lord have mercy! Can we have pancakes some time?’ ” Sigler recalled.
They rarely did.
Aldonia White, a retired certified nursing assistant, fancied herself as an expert on guessing the correct price for items displayed on the TV show. From time to time, she’d yell at the screen, “Girl, that’s not the answer!”
Lewis White, a Korean War veteran and retired construction worker, lived with dementia, Sigler said. But he’d not retreated into himself. From time to time, the intro from the 1950s hit “Tutti Frutti” would burst from his lips: “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!”
But the Whites also had dealt with tragedy. They lost a son and a daughter, both grown, to cancer many years ago, Sigler said. She said she didn’t know any of the details.
Sometimes, Aldonia White would glance up at the photographs above the TV and reminisce about her children. Then she’d start to cry.
“It really hurt her to the core,” Sigler said.
Contributing: Sun-Times Wire