Fort Myers, Florida -- Fourteen months ago, Gladys Andrews lay seizing and choking on the floor of her home on St. Andrews Circle, her body supported by pillows.
She'd been confined there since two days before, when she'd fallen and her 61-year-old daughter Gail was unable to lift her.
But calling 911 was not an option. Gail Andrews said they both knew if emergency workers saw the piles of garbage and the scampering rats, they'd lose the south Fort Myers home they'd shared for 35 years.
Eventually, Gladys Andrews died.
Her daughter was alone, frightened and living in a home so unclean she said she ate wearing latex gloves. She didn't know what to do or who to turn to.
So she left her mother's body on the floor.
Gail Andrews told her story Tuesday as she watched over her home from the protection of her neighbor's yard. Lee County sheriff's deputies continued to investigate the residence surrounded by crime scene tape, where last weekend they found what is believed to be her mother's remains. They have not charged Andrews in the case.
Andrews talked while wearing brown loafers, a navy blue polo and shorts that hung loosely on her small frame. The clothes were given to her at the Ruth Cooper Center, a mental health facility where she'd spent the last 72 hours. That's the longest amount of time a person can be held against his or her will in a mental health facility. Andrews spent Monday night in her neighbor's tree house. Her neighbor paid her $16 cab fare back from the mental facility.
Later Tuesday, Lee County condemned the home, tacking a sign on the door. It could be demolished in three months, said Joan LaGuardia, spokeswoman for the county's Community Development Department.
All Andrews said she wants now is to sell the property so she can move and have a new start.
"Is there anyone to turn to? No," she said. "To be sane and go through this is very painful."
Andrews knows her situation is extreme and she realizes her life has been out of the ordinary.
"It was an unusual and bizarre existence," she said.
A hard life
Gail Andrews grew up in Hartford, Conn. Her father owned a liquor store attached to their home.
An only child, she grew up loving the company of her parents. She lived with them as she earned degrees from the University of Hartford and St. Joseph's College.
Then, when she was 23, her father was shot in the chest during an attempted robbery at his store, she said. Business declined, so the family moved to Florida.
They started in Miami, then Sanibel, where they operated the now-defunct Sandpiper Cottages. High living expenses drove the family to Fort Myers, where Andrews got a job teaching at Fort Myers Middle School.
The trouble started in 1994 when her father, Andrew, suffered a stroke.
Doctors told her he couldn't live without 24-hour medical care, so Andrews took a leave of absence.
But working as a full-time caregiver didn't leave much time for house- or yardwork, so gradually trash started to pile up. Then mice moved in.
Andrews tried to poison them but couldn't find their bodies once they died. Soon, the smell of decay was emanating from the home.
Andrew Andrews died in 1999 and was buried at the Fort Myers Memorial Gardens.
That's where Gail Andrews said her mother also has a plot.
For the next 10 years, Gail Andrews cared for her mother and cousin, who lived across the street and died of bone cancer in 2008, she said.
She was unable to get back her teaching job, so she and her mother lived on Social Security and the $1,000 a month an aunt from Connecticut sent them. She wouldn't comment whether she'd continued to cash her mother's checks after she died.
Her air conditioning stopped working after her mother died and the house grew steadily worse.
Then Andrews said she cut her ankle so badly she should have sought medical attention. Instead, neighbors helped her bandage it.
But it got infected and Andrews said she frequently vomited and had a fever. Petrified someone would find out about her mother, she refused to go to the hospital.
She said she didn't leave the house for nine months. Neighbors bought groceries and brought them to the house.
Mountain of filth
Around 9 p.m. on June 4, Andrews saw the blinking lights of four sheriff's cars as they pulled in front of her home.
She stepped outside in her nightgown, flashlight in hand. Seeing them walk toward her, she worried she'd be handcuffed and tried to run. A female deputy caught her.
"Don't run from us," Andrews was told.
Andrews believed her time was up.
"If I let you in, this will all blow sky high," she told them.
Then she walked up the path and opened the door. It took investigators a week to find the body because it was so hidden by trash and furniture.
Gabriella Souza, Fort Myers News-Press