CHICAGO — A Cook County coroner noted two pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, black sneakers, a pair of pants, two pairs of underwear, a scarf, a T-shirt, a blue sweatshirt, a black sweatshirt, another blue sweatshirt, a yellow sweater, another black sweatshirt and a light brown jacket.
But for Harvey Dell “Squeek” Harmon Jr., even that wasn’t enough.
Harmon succumbed to Chicago’s cold in the hallway of an abandoned apartment complex sometime between Jan. 8 and Jan. 12.
The medical examiner’s report also recorded the condition of his body: “frozen to ground.”
It wasn’t his friends in the homeless community who came across him in that state. They couldn’t find him over the frigid winter weekend.
Instead, a Chicago Water Department worker, arriving at 1:50 p.m. on Jan. 12 to inspect a vacant red-brick apartment building at 11209 S. Vernon Avenue, found him. The 53-year-old’s lifeless body was lying in a hallway.
The worker called 911 to report his discovery and left the scene when police and firefighters arrived at the three-story building, which lacked heat and electricity.
Unable to open the front door, firefighters broke into the property to retrieve him. Police alerted city building authorities to board up the dwelling's windows and doors to prevent others from entering. The city would soon demolish the derelict building.
That afternoon, news of Harmon’s death filtered through to those who knew him. He likely died alone, but in life he kept in touch with a wide circle of friends and family, most of whom lived around Palmer Park on Chicago’s South Side, near where he died and where he spent the last years of his life.
In Cottage Grove, about 30 blocks north, his sister Sheila Harmon, 54, received official notification of her brother’s death that day. Another relative had already told Kerry Harmon, Harvey Harmon’s nephew and close friend.
“I cried,” Sheila Harmon recalled. "I went into a frenzy from that point. I was just crying.”
A week before, she and Kerry Harmon helped him put together the paperwork necessary to obtain a state ID card.
It was through that documentation that authorities were able to contact the Harmon family within minutes of the discovery of his body.
If Harvey Harmon had lacked identification, officials would have looked through the missing person files to try to link his body to a name. Sometimes they fail, and the dead remain John or Jane Does. Cook County currently has descriptions of 29 unidentified bodies on its website.
Sheila Harmon said she had hoped the ID would help him get a temporary job. She didn’t expect it to help news of his death reach her faster.
She said she was disappointed in him the last time she saw him. He was drunk on a day when he was supposed to be looking for work. Now, she said, she just wishes she could tell him how much she loved him.
“It’s what it is,” she said. “It seems like he was getting ready to get it together. Then this happens.”