Dead Cats Lady
What the Media Never Told
The owner and all the tenants
had complained, month after month, to Boston's Inspectional
Services Department (ISD) and the Housing Court, by
phone call, in writing and in signed affidavits and
nothing was done. Inspectors had failed for eight
months. Judges had equivocated and delayed for six
months. Finally, in desperation, some half-dozen neighbors
all called the police. 'Just come, smell the stench,
hear to dog barking', they pleaded. The police came,
smelled, heard. They busted in. They found five live
cats, a scrawny Great Dane dog, and 62 frozen cats,
kittens and newborn kittens in freezers. That's when,
nine months after it all started, it hit the media.
Heidi Erickson moved into 103 Charles
Street last September 1. Within a week, the owner
received numerous phone calls from other tenants in
the building. By September 16, the owner had secured
a written complaint from the Charles Street business
located below the Dead Cat Lady's unit, and Boston's
Housing Inspection Division had received a complaint
from the tenant immediately above, alleging "feces
smell from tenant below."
With no sense of urgency (one week later) by appointment,
Housing Inspector Leonard Pucchia inspects and concludes:
"Odor not strong enough at visit to warrant writing
a violation at this time. Occupant [upstairs tenant]
advised to request an additional visit when conditions
On October 7, the owner himself calls in a complaint
of "strong odor." Two days later, Inspector
Pucchia, by appointment, concludes: "No cause.
Landlord will reschedule, if necessary."
Over the next few months, Inspector Pucchia makes
eight to ten inspections by appointment, with the
same results. The other tenants report strong perfume
odors at the time of inspections. Obviously, the tenant
cleans up before inspections.
Owner Acted Quickly
While ISD inaction dragged on and
on, the owner acted fast and gave the Dead Cats Lady
an eviction notice on September 30. He also went to
court for an injunction to remove the animals immediately.
He had gathered letters from all his tenants. He had
a Cambridge court case showing the Dead Cats Lady
had just been evicted from a Cambridge apartment for
exactly the same problem: horrific odor bothering
other tenants and neighbors, starting shortly after
she had moved in.
The Cambridge judge found that the apartment had been
visited more than 30 times by inspectors, that she
was advertising Persian cats for sale on the Internet,
that her claim that she was offering the cats up for
"adoption" and that money received was a
"donation" was a flat-out lie, that she
often refused to let inspectors in, that she retaliated
against complainants by filing "numerous court
actions against them," and that she had been
found previously to be abusing the legal process and
ordered not to file complaints without permission
but continued to do so. The Cambridge eviction took
12 months, and the owner finally paid the Dead Cats
Lady $2,000 to move.
The now-under-siege Boston owner, seeking an injunction,
took this information to Boston Housing Court Judge
Anne Caplin, who said he had no case. The other tenants'
letters were hearsay, and the previous court case
The owner calls SPOA, who gives
him the name of Boston attorney Emil Ward. Ward gets
the tenants' letters turned into affidavits. And seeking
an injunction once again (after two delays initiated
by the Dead Cats Lady), Ward also brings the reluctant
tenant-neighbors in person into the courtroom of Boston
Housing Court Judge Jeffrey Winik on January 29.
Were they all conspiring against the Dead Cats
Lady? Just to make sure, Judge Winik decides he has
to view the unit himself. He orders no one to leave
the courtroom until he does. But the Dead Cats Lady
passes her keys to a friend who runs out. Judge Winik
is told what happened. Winik questions her. She says
her friend is not going to the apartment, he's just
upset. Judge Winik scowls.
At the apartment, the windows and doors are wide open,
a bathroom perfume is going full-blast, and cat feces
have been shoveled into the bathtub. One can barely
pass through the cramped apartment. Winik sees it
all, returns to his judge's bench, and says: "Yes,
the unit is in horrendous condition, there's cat feces
in the tub, the perfume is on automatic, the dog looks
awfully skinny, but the conditions do not rise to
the standards of an injunction. I can't order her
to get rid of her dog or cats." End of injunction
Slow eviction trial
Meanwhile, Attorney Ward proceeds
with the eviction the owner began on September 30.
Despite all previous delays and clear urgency (two
injunction requests, all units suffering stench, and
three units not paying rent since September and November),
the Housing Court assigns a trial date two and a half
months later, in mid-March.
At trial, the Dead Cats Lady had failed to answer
Attorney Ward's pre-trial discovery questions, usually
grounds for ending a case. Judge Winik says he won't
dismiss it, telling Ward to proceed now or wait 10
days for the Dead Cat Lady's discovery answers. With
four carefully gathered witnesses, including subpoenaed
tenant neighbors, all standing in the courtroom, Ward
decides he must proceed.
The Dead Cats Lady chooses to be her own lawyer, and
Judge Winik lets her wander and wander for five long
days, cross-examining witnesses at length and subpoenaing
new witnesses mid-trial. Winik even let her take a
cell-phone call during the trial (the rule is all
cell-phones off in the courtroom). The five-day-long
trial to "establish the facts of the case"
was "brutal," says Ward. Of course, the
Dead Cats Lady is losing nothing while the owner is
"hemorrhaging," as Ward says. The cost of
tying up the court system, including at least five
staff in the courtroom, falls to the taxpayers. Finally,
Judge Winik takes a whole month to write his decision,
again a long delay. On April 16, he rules she should
Finally, a week later and seven months after getting
first notice, ISD brings criminal charges against
the Dead Cats Lady. The matter goes before Boston
Housing Court's Chief Justice Manuel Kyriakakis, who
says it's not a criminal matter and gives her another
10 days to get rid of her cats.
At the last moment, the Dead Cats Lady appeals Judge
Winik's eviction decision, and that appeal, which
could take many, many months, is still pending. Because
of the appeal, the Dead Cats Lady is - even after
the police bust-in - still technically in possession
of the apartment. The owner can't rent it.
The hemorrhaging continues. Biohazard clean-up costs
were $7,500. The second-floor tenant likely will sue
- not the Dead Cats Lady - but the owner.
A Somerville owner was hit by the Dead Cats Lady prior
to the Cambridge owner prior to the Boston owner.
And now she has just been caught for exactly the same
problems - 52 sickly live cats and nearly a dozen
dead ones - in a Watertown apartment.
In January, Attorney Ward
informed authorities that he suspected Section 8 fraud,
since she had a subsidy voucher in Cambridge and in
Boston. Her website showed she was trading in expensive
Persian cats. Authorities called Ward only after the
story hit the media in late April.