A woman found amid piles of trash and dozens of cats at her Santa Ana home still had a cat carrier containing a kitten on her lap when a gardener found her dead, authorities said on Wednesday.
The gardener, who took care of three properties owned by the woman, called authorities at about 10 p.m. on Tuesday after finding her body at a home in the 1400 block of Rosewood Street (map), Santa Ana Police Department Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
The 72-year-old apparently died in a wheelchair while on her front porch. On her lap was a cat carrier with a kitten inside, Bertagna said.
She was later identified by her brother and the coroner’s office at Rita Corpin, 72. Police had initially said she was 71.
She had been a history teacher at La Quinta High School in Westminster for more than 40 years and was recently retired, brother David Corbin said. She was involved in the community, he added.
Because of the amount of trash and overgrown brush on the property, it took police wearing hazardous material suits about three hours to remove the her body from the home, Bertagna said.
Neighbors said they knew Corpin was hoarding, but she didn’t want to get rid of anything.
“Just because she had her house a little bit unkempt, we still loved her,” said friend Mary Campa, who lit a candle in front of the property.
Another longtime neighbor said Corpin was a lonely widow. She would retrieve discarded food from grocery store trash containers and put it in her front yard, the neighbor said.
Neighbors said they could not completely see inside at least one of the properties, which had its driveway blocked off by a black tarp.
As the piles of trash and cat feces spread, the woman was unable to sleep inside her home and began sleeping in her car, Bertagna said.
Authorities found at least 35 cats and mountains of trash on the property. A chair, old papers, water bottles and a roll of toilet paper were among a pile of items that nearly blocked the woman’s car from view.
Hoarding conditions were found at both of the woman’s other homes as well, according to Bertagna.
The woman was believed to have died from natural causes, Bertagna said.
“With any death investigation we check for foul play,” Bertagna said, but added that the coroner’s office reported no signs of trauma on the woman.
Hoarder cases are not that uncommon, Bertagna stated, saying the department receives several calls a year.
In March, more than 200 snakes were found in the Santa Ana home of an elementary school teacher.
KTLA’s Christina Pascucci contributed to this article.