Woman found living with dead body in Hazel Park; Second incident involving woman

Posted at 5:58 PM, Jul 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-22 18:48:36-04

The odor on West Milton Street was strong. Neighbors had looked around outside for a dead animal. They didn’t find the source.

Then their neighbor went to city hall to pay a water bill. A city worker noticed a strong body odor. It was so severe, the worker worried for the woman’s health. The worker asked police to do a welfare check at the woman’s home.  What police found is tragic. She was living with her roommate’s dead body. They would learn as they continued their investigation, it wasn’t the first time.

Neighbors say the woman was living in the home of 78-year-old Donald Smith, a Vietnam veteran. He told them he was fighting cancer, so they weren’t surprised when they didn’t see him for a while.

“I understood why he wouldn’t be out here if he was as sick as she said he was,” said Matthew Urben, who lives across the street. 

Urben says he often ran errands for Smith and his roommate Katherine Lessmann, who is in her 60s. Lessmann would ask for the favors on behalf of both of them. 

He says in hindsight, there were signs something wasn’t right.

“I had directly asked if I could see him sometime, but she changed the subject,” said Urben.  

He pressed her for more information, and she gave a reasonable answer.

“She would always say he was bedridden.”

He was shocked to learn investigators believe Donald Smith has been dead since December.

“Wow. That’s crazy. December? I wish I would have asked more questions,” said Urben.

After police came to do a welfare check on Katherine Lessmann, they immediately took her to the hospital. She was covered in feces and maggots.

Police say she was a hoarder of garbage and cats. The mess in the house was so severe, it took days to find Donald with a Haz Mat team.

Neighbors say this isn’t the first time they have had such an investigation.

Donald Smith took Katherine Lessmann in back in 2005 after someone found her living down the street with her mother’s dead body.

Donald knew she couldn’t care for herself, and welcomed her into his home so she wouldn’t be homeless said several neighbors.

Urben is relatively new to the neighborhood and wasn’t aware of that history.

"I just knew he was a nice guy,” said Urben.

Hazel Park Animal Control workers say they found one dead cat in the house, four adult cats, and four kittens.  They will be checked out and put up for adoption if they are healthy.

An autopsy will be done to determine exactly how Donald Smith died.  Police suspect he died of natural causes.