A gruesome death in one of Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods has captured the attention of the Windy City. The body of 80-year-old Florence Banta was found at the bottom of a trash chute in the same Gold Coast high-rise where a little more than a year ago a teenager with Down syndrome fell to his death, also down a trash chute.
Banta was reported missing by her daughter on Saturday. Described in a police alert as “a fragile woman who may be suffering with anxiety and may be upset,” she lived on the 17th floor. A building engineer found her body Monday morning, according to Chicago police. Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Medical Examiner, told ABC News that an autopsy performed Tuesday was inconclusive, and that the cause of death was “pending further investigation by [her]office and the police.” The Chicago police are calling their involvement in the case a “death investigation.”
When 16-year-old Charlie Manley died last February, his fall down the chute was ruled an accident. His parents noticed the boy, disabled by Down syndrome and autism, was missing when an alarm system indicated the door to their 46th floor condominium was open. An autopsy found he had died of injuries suffered in a fall down the chute.
Banta’s death, so similar to Manley’s, has residents in the area worried and mystified. Neighbor Barbara Georgans told ABC’s Chicago station WLS, “It was just shocking that another incident like this has happened.”
Residents said the chute was about one-and-a-half feet wide and about four feet off the ground.
“You can’t just fall in that chute,” Sylvia Arbetman told ABC News. “Somebody pushed her or she climbed in. But she’d have to be a bit deranged to do that.” Annette Daly also lives in the building and said she “can’t imagine this happening.”
Yet neither Arbetman nor Daly suspect Banta was the victim of foul play.
“This building is very security conscious. I just don’t believe something like that happened,” said Daly.
Polly Betrova, who works in the building as a caregiver to one of the residents, agreed, telling ABC News, “Nobody is running around this building trying to hurt people. It is very sad but I think she did it herself.”
That opinion contrasts with how Banta’s daughter described her mother late today to the Chicago Tribune on its website: Her daughter, Barbara Laken, said her mother “certainly gave no sign of ever wanting to hurt herself.” Laken said Banta was about to move to a new building and was “excited for the future.”
A statement released today by the building’s management said: “1555 Astor Condominium has been cooperating with law enforcement officers, and unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to provide you with any details associated with the incident. The safety and privacy of our residents and our community remains our top priority.”