SEYMOUR, Conn (Hartford Courant) — What veteran police Officer Lisa Wexler saw inside a stinking, dark, locked bedroom on Eleanor Road was like nothing else she had experienced in her nearly 24 years of policing.
A frail, starving woman covered head-to-toe with feces and urine sat in a room so foul officers couldn’t breathe. They had to leave and call in a colleague wearing a hazardous material suit with an air pack to explore the room.
“Your eyes immediately watered. The smell … awful. We had to change uniforms after leaving because the stench was in them,” Wexler said Friday afternoon at a press conference outside the Seymour Police Department. “I served on the New Haven police force for 22 years before retiring and coming here last July. I never saw anything like this in my years with New Haven. I was absolutely shocked.”
The 56-year-old woman was recovering Friday afternoon at Yale-New Haven Hospital from what police said was neglect by her caretaker — her brother, Arthur Gauvin, 58.
“Officers and detectives have determined the motive for Gauvin keeping the victim locked up inside the house was so he wouldn’t lose the house to the state of Connecticut,” Deputy Chief Paul Satkowski said on Friday.
Gauvin faces numerous felony charges, including first-degree unlawful restraint, and was being held on $150,000 bond after his arraignment Friday afternoon in Superior Court in Derby. He is due in Milford Superior Court on May 13 for another hearing.
Detectives learned that the victim had owned the house once, and that ownership was transferred to Arthur Gauvin seven years ago. He was required to care for his sister for a total of nine years before the state would begin providing her any services, Satkowski said.
The exact details of the home ownership issue are still being sought by investigators, he said.
Satkowski, at the post-arraignment press conference, said officers had been called to the home at 10 Eleanor Road for minor issues in 2010 and 2012, and found no evidence of anything wrong. Officers saw and talked with the sister both times, and she appeared normal, and conditions in the home were not unusual, he said.
After an anonymous call Thursday night asking officers to check on the welfare of a woman at the home, “What officers found Thursday night was astonishing, terrible,” Satkowski said.
The tiny bedroom — its sole window painted black, nailed shut with boards and locked tight from he outside — was “kept like a dungeon,” he said in the press release distributed after Gauvin’s arrest.
“When the victim was brought Thursday night by ambulance to Yale-New Haven Hospital, some of the doctor and nurses on duty were mortified by her condition,” Wexler said. “She was so frail, malnourished, dehydrated, dirty. Unbelievable.”
Gauvin, who police said has no previous criminal record, was arrested twice Thursday night. The first time was on charges that he imprisoned and was criminally cruel to his sister. The second time was on threatening and witness tampering charges because he allegedly warned his daughter, who was waiting for him in the police station lobby, not to talk to police or he would kick her and her young daughter out of the house.
The younger woman, 33, told police later she had often questioned her father’s poor care of the victim, saw continued mistreatment of her and was “petrified” by her own father’s threat that he would toss her and his own 6-year-old grandchild out of the home if she cooperated in the investigation.
The daughter and grandchild lived in the home with Gauvin and the imprisoned sister. Police also said two young men, friends of the daughter, rented space in the basement because they had no other place to live.
Satkowski said the state Department of Children and Families had joined police in reviewing the case. It was not clear Friday if anyone would be allowed back into the home.
Nancy Phillips, who lives nearby and had bought a dog several years ago from Arthur Gauvin, said she walked by the Eleanor Road home about a year ago and saw a woman standing in the bedroom, looking out the window. Phillips said she thought it might be Gauvin’s sister and asked people in Gauvin’s yard how “the girl in the bedroom” was doing.
Not long after that, when Phillips next walked past the house, she said the bedroom window was painted black and the air conditioning unit in the window was gone.
“I should have said something,” Phillips said Friday, sitting in a parked car outside the Gauvin home before leaving on an errand. “I always saw him sitting on the front steps, drinking. Never saw her again.”