Landlord didn’t know house was unfit

First Posted: 1/15/2014

LIMA — The owner of a Bath Township home where an elderly man recently died of hypothermia said she had no idea the house was in such poor shape.

Leona Connaughton is the owner of 2845 N. Cool Road, where Gwendolyn Shaw found her 75-year-old husband unresponsive and barely alive pinned between a bed and table on Jan. 8. He died a short time later at the hospital after developing an irregular heartbeat connected to hypothermia.

Connaughton learned of the incident from a fireman and was told of terrible living conditions that included no heat in the home and no running water. The Shaws were using a space heater to get by.

“I’m just so upset,” she said. “I’ve been shaking for a week.”

Connaughton is 86 years old and lives in Lima. She has been the Shaws’ landlord for 20 years but has overseen those duties only since her husband’s death. Her husband handled the property and the farmland around it, which he rented to a farmer, she said. Her husband died seven years ago.

Her husband was alive the last time she was at the property, she said.

“I just collected the rent, and Mr. Shaw brought the rent to me once a month,” she said.

The Shaws never informed Connaughton anything was wrong with the house.

“I was so upset when the fire chief called me and told me that he died in that house and that it was cold in there,” she said. “I said, ‘If they had only let me know.’ And they said there was no water for three months. ‘I said, ‘How could that have happened?’ I said, ‘I would have had a plumber out there like yesterday.’”

The last time Connaughton saw Mr. Shaw was at the beginning of this month when he dropped off the rent.

“I said, ‘Are you keeping warm?’ and he said, ‘Oh, yes,’” she recalled.

Connaughton, who has owned the house for about 45 years, said the Shaws were always private people and didn’t want anyone in the house.

“I’ve never been in the house. I asked if I could come in and she said, ‘No, it wasn’t tidy,’” Connaughton said.

She said the Shaws were quick to come outside and greet anyone who drove up the lane, which is about 200 yards long.

“I talked to her to see if I could go into the house because we had cabinets put in, in the kitchen, and I wanted to see them. He didn’t want me in the house,” she said. “My husband had never been in there since they lived there.”

Connaughton said she frequently asked Mr. Shaw how they were doing, and he never once indicated there was a problem.

“I would always say, ‘How are things out at the farm?’” she said, and Mr. Shaw would always say OK.

She said he never discussed the house and would change the subject.

“I didn’t go checking on the farm. I depended on my tenant to come and tell me if anything was wrong out there,” she said.

Sheriff officials said the Shaws only had a space heater to keep warm, which was severely inadequate due to the sub-zero temperatures last week. They also said the house had not had running water for three months.

Connaughton said there was a furnace in the basement, but she didn’t know if it worked or if the Shaws chose not to use it.

She said she plans to demolish the home due to the poor condition a detective told her the house was in.

Connaughton doesn’t know much about the Shaws. She said a sheriff’s detective told her Mrs. Shaw has a daughter with whom she is not in contact. She said Mr. Shaw was retired and the detective told her he had worked as a janitor at a local school.

A detective told Connaughton a few days ago Mrs. Shaw remained in the hospital but was expected to be released this week. She said she hopes Mrs. Shaw recovers. She said the Shaws were good people who enjoyed living in the country.

“They’ve always seemed like lovely people,” she said.

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