Unearthing Life Amidst the Debris: The Complexity of Hoarding

Unearthing Life Amidst the Debris: The Complexity of Hoarding

Discover a jaw-dropping story of family secrets, hoarder homes and hidden skeletons (literally!) in our latest post. Tune in if you’re fascinated by human mysteries and mental health topics.


Today’s topics:

  • Incident in Brooklyn
  • Hoarding and its Consequences
  • Bruce Roberts’ Case
  • Understanding Hoarding Disorder
  • Rita Wolfenson’s Case
  • How to Help Someone with Hoarding Disorder
Josette Buchman

Deep within the boroughs of Brooklyn, the quiet hum of everyday city life often helps conceal the silently escalating tragedies that take place behind closed doors. Those stories, once revealed, might surprise, mystify, or even horrify unsuspecting bystanders.

The home where the body was found

Let’s take a stroll back in memory lane to September 15, 2016.

A seemingly ordinary woman named Josette Buckman was preparing for a consequential visit to her sister-in-law, Rita. Expecting to simply collect some personal effects, what Josette discovered was a scene that defied every imaginable encounter. Trash scattered carelessly around, the air heavy with the scent of decaying food, and an eerie path led Josette to its source – the skeleton of Louis Wolfenson laying on a bed in the attic, dressed in casual clothing just as he had been last seen twenty years ago.

“Rita’s son and Buckman’s nephew, Louis Wolfenson, was found perfectly preserved as a skeleton, still dressed in jeans, socks, and a shirt.”

Image concept by author via Dalle 2

The purpose of this post is not to pass judgement on anyone. We’re looking to unpack and explore a topic from an unbiased position. If you’re facing mental health concerns, it’s essential to consult with professionals.


A Stigmatized Disorder: Hoarding

One can’t help but ponder how a decaying corpse could lay undiscovered for 20 years in a place someone could call home. It’s tough to comprehend, yet calamities like this are unfortunately more frequent than we might assume, particularly in the lives of individuals battling hoarding. Particularly alarming are instances where the victims are pets.

According to the Bender couple, who run a cleaning business for hoarders, they once discovered 60 cats in a single house, 19 of which were sadly departed. Another chilling instance involved a man named Bruce Roberts, who would later be discovered passed away among the piles of garbage in his home.

The somber tale of Roberts does not end here. A year after his death, the executors of his estate found another nightmarish surprise – skeletal remains of another man, presumably buried eight years prior. The mystery around this man named Shane Snellman, who was known for low-level crimes like selling drugs and breaking and entering, and his mortal encounter with Roberts remains unsolved even to this day.

`What happened to the house after being sold at auction for over 2 million Australian dollars? –> The home was bulldozed and is being redeveloped into a luxury home.`


The Many Facets of Hoarding

Understanding the layers behind hoarding disorders can be complex. According to the Cleveland Clinic, hoarding is a syndrome where individuals compulsively save large quantities of items despite a lack of real value to these objects. Newspapers, magazines, household goods, and clothing are commonly hoarded items.

Hoarding disorder also triggers great distress at the very thought of parting with the amassed possessions. While the hoarders might not perceive an issue with their massive collections, their inability to recognize it as a problem can pose hindrances towards treatment. Hoarding disorder often starts early, around teenage years, but those seeking treatment typically are around 50 years old. It can be associated with severe depression, OCD, and even psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, and is often initiated by traumatic life events.

Treating hoarding disorders is a complex process. Cognitive behavioural therapy often shows lower efficiency compared to other mental disorders.

> “We teach them how to categorize, plan, and problem solve. They go item by item, deciding what to keep or discard. Over time, they learn they can tolerate the distress of discarding.” – Catherine Ayers, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego.

But one may wonder, how do people miss a major event like death in a house filled with trash? Rita Wolfenson might answer that.


A Rooftop Tragedy: The Case of Rita

Rita, legally blind, lived a reclusive life. Her house was engulfed in the scent of rotting food that the smell of decayed human remains couldn’t creep its way out. The skeletal body of her son was found in her house after 20 years of his disappearance. Apparently, she had no knowledge about the presence of her son’s corpse in her own home.

Aftermath? The house was emptied, and Rita was likely moved to an assisted living home by her family.

Turning the focus back to hoarding, lives can be irreversibly affected, bringing down social and work lives, not to mention several physical risks including fire hazards, tripping, falling debris, and pests or rodent infestations.

For those wondering how to help a loved one battling hoarding disorder, try offering gentle persuasion towards seeking professional help, being sensitive and supportive always. Remember, forcing a cleanup won’t solve the underlying issue. Referrals from a general practitioner to an expert therapist on the subject may go a long way towards addressing the root cause and initiating recovery.


Key Takeaways!

Image concept by author via Dalle 2

The author discusses hoarding, a mental health disorder often carrying stigma. It highlights the severe impact of hoarding through stories about Josette Buckman finding her missing nephew’s skeleton among her sister-in-law’s cluttered home, and Australian man Bruce Roberts, discovered to have lived with the remains of a potential intruder buried beneath his hoard. The hosts explore the difficulty in treating hoarding disorder, noting the average age for treatment is 50. They stress the need for cognitive behavioral therapy and cognitive rehabilitation to help hoarders decide what to keep or discard.

The author emphasizes the importance of sensitivity when addressing hoarding, encouraging people to focus on health concerns and empower sufferers to declutter independently.


Additional resources:


Hoarding: For Mental Health Professionals
International OCD Foundation

The Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring
Frost, R.O., & Steketee, G. (Eds.), Oxford University Press, 2014

Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding
(2nd ed.) Tolin, D., et al., Oxford University Press, 2013

Prevalence of Hoarding Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
Postlethwaite, A., et al., Journal of Affective Disorders , 2019