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Three frozen bodies found in abandoned Avondale home

For weeks, neighbors saw the telltale liquor bottles and flickering candles, suggesting squatters had taken over a vacant home on their quiet Avondale block.

Their suspicions were confirmed Monday when authorities made a grim discovery: the frozen bodies of three men upstairs at the home in the 3300 block of North Harding.

“It started over the winter,” said next-door neighbor Jackie Ocegueda, 17. “Random homeless people coming in. They’d light candles — it was kind of dangerous.”

The Cook County medical examiner’s office has not released the names of the three, ages 36, 50 and 73. Autopsies found they died of hypothermia.

Their deaths pushed the number of people killed by the cold this winter to 14, according to records kept by the Sun-Times.

The home has been abandoned for several years and was a prime target for squatters, neighbors say. Ocegueda said her family complained to the city about the problem.

Neighbor Esmeralda Sotelo, 18, said the alley behind the house has long been a hotspot for public drinking and vagrancy. A liquor store is conveniently located nearby, at the corner of Milwaukee and Pulaski. On Monday, a gate leading from the alley to the house had been jimmied open and the lock removed.

“They are always drinking. When it’s nice out they bring sofas,” said Sotelo. “My dad called the cops once because they leave the alley dirty and we have to clean it up.”

A spokeswoman for Chicago’s building department said her office has not received any complaints about the property. The Chicago Police Department could not say Monday if police have previously been called to the block for similar complaints.

Records show Arthur Kiwacz of Palos Hills purchased the home out of foreclosure in August from banking giant BNY Mellon of New York.

Reached Monday, Kiwacz said he had been notified of the men’s deaths, which he called “unfortunate.” He added that he does regular upkeep at the property.

Kiwacz said he was shoveling snow at the property last Friday when he noticed a backyard window was open.

“I called my handyman to come in and close up the window — that was it. I can’t be there every day.” Kiwacz said. “The property was secured. They probably broke in.”