They kept asking, ‘Where’s Katie?’ Now neighbors question why it took months to find the woman’s body inside her Minneapolis home
Neighbors kept asking the same question.
For six months last year, they would look at the house on Barnes Place in Minneapolis and wonder: “Where’s Katie?”
They first called 911 to request a welfare check in March.
As the months passed, they kept asking.
“Every day,” said one neighbor. “Where’s Katie?”
Deep down, they already knew the answer.
“I said, ‘Katie’s in that house,'” Pearlie Collins said. “‘She’s in that house somewhere.'”
The answer finally came on a sunny September morning last fall.
Crews working to clean out the condemned home in the Near North neighborhood found the body of Kathleen “Katie” Norton.
City housing inspectors immediately called Minneapolis Police.
Police were already familiar with the house. They had it boarded up six months earlier after they first searched for Katie.
Records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES would later reveal a failure by police to follow up on repeated concerns over Katie’s wellbeing.
Those records, as well as interviews with neighbors and experts, confirmed that police also failed to alert the city officials who could have found her sooner.
“I’m sure she laid there probably waiting on somebody to help her,” said Collins, who lived next door. “And nobody never came.”
Collins knew Katie for more than 20 years.
“She had a contagious spirit,” she said. “You just wanted to say hi to her and talk to her.”
“Katie” was often seen walking in the neighborhood, pulling a red wagon along and stopping to chat with people who lived nearby.
And she was full of stories, said Reeve Klatt, who lived across the street.
“She could talk your ear off,” she said with a laugh.
Yet even those closest were held at a distance. Katie lived alone. She had no close family and didn’t own a car or even a phone.
Neighbors knew Katie was a hoarder. For years, they watched items pile up on the property on Barnes Place. The two identical houses Katie owned were guarded by a high, chain-linked fence.
“There’s definitely, I think, some mental health issues that she struggled with,” Klatt said.
In the early months of 2021, when people stopped seeing Katie, they started to worry.
Collins noticed she wasn’t out walking. Several women who ran a food shelf at Community Covenant Church said Katie hadn’t shown up as she usually did. Klatt saw the neighbor’s mailbox stuffed full.
“That was a huge red flag,” she said.
On March 27, 2021, Klatt and her husband called Minneapolis Police. Body camera video obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES shows the couple speaking to the officers.
“There’s stuff barricaded, pushed up against the doors,” the officer is heard saying to Klatt’s husband. “If she does that and it’s all pressed up against there, where is she now, because she’s clearly not inside the house.”
“He was very emphatic,” Klatt said. “He just said like she’s not in there.”
That was a dangerous assumption, according to Janet Yeats, a nationally recognized expert on hoarding disorder who reviewed the police file obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.
“When the first police officer entered the home, maybe she was alive, and maybe something could have been done to help her,” Yeats said. “I don’t know that. But that’s the question I’m left [with]. And that troubles me.”
The Minneapolis Police Department declined to release body camera video of the search of the property, citing privacy concerns.
The department also declined multiple interview requests to explain what happened during the search and what steps officers took afterward.
In a statement to 5 INVESTIGATES, an MPD spokesperson wrote, “After attempting to enter her residence, it was deemed to be uninhabitable due to the extreme number of personal possessions and hazardous conditions.”
Police reports detail the hoarded conditions of the home that officers encountered during the initial search.
In his written report, the officer noted the “large amounts of stuff placed in front of the front and side door” of the house.
Despite that observation, the officer did not alert housing inspectors after that first visit.
“The right thing would have been to call housing immediately,” Yeats told 5 INVESTIGATES. “The housing inspectors are the ones that have a protocol for what you do with a hoarded home.”
Yeats spent years training city and county officials on the best practices for dealing with hoarded homes. She says the proper protocol is to contact housing inspectors right away.
However, MPD does not have a policy that requires officers to take that step when they discover an “uninhabitable” home in the city, according to a review of department policies.
Officers did follow one protocol in their manual. After forcing open the door to Katie’s home, they ordered it be boarded up.
“If you board it up at this point, wouldn’t you be one-hundred percent sure that she’s not in there?” Collins said.
“We just kept saying, ‘Where’s Katie?'”
The question lingered through the spring and summer of 2021.
“We just kept saying, ‘Where’s Katie?'” Collins said.
Her son, Robert Lattimore III, asked himself the question daily.
“That was [the] only question, ‘Where’s Katie?'” he said. “Every day. ‘Where’s Katie?’ All day long. I’d walk past and just think like, you know, where could she be?”
What the next-door neighbors didn’t know was that other people had the same question.
MPD dispatch records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES show nearly half a dozen calls to police after that initial search, asking officers to do a welfare check.
On April 10, the mail carrier called and said Katie hadn’t checked her mail in three weeks.
Ten days later, a man called police on April 20, worried because he knew Katie lived alone.
On May 4, a woman called and reported she hadn’t seen Katie at church since February.
“I have never been told of a case in which that many phone calls were made by neighbors,” said Yeats, the expert on hoarding disorder.
But after each call, records show police didn’t return to search the home because it was already boarded up. They also didn’t contact housing inspectors.
City officials told 5 INVESTIGATES that MPD did not refer this case to housing until August 2021 — five months after the initial search.
When “police gave housing inspectors permission” to enter on Aug. 18, 2021, they pulled down the boards and entered Katie’s home.
Housing officials documented unsanitary and dangerous conditions inside both houses on the property. Photos show items piled to the ceilings. Trash and other debris covered the floors. Inspectors found a deceased cat.
The city filed paperwork to condemn the homes and hired a contractor to clear the property. Three days into that work, at the end of September, crews found what was left of Katie Norton.
“She was found like garbage,” Collins remarked. “She was found like a piece of garbage.”
According to the medical examiner’s report, Katie had on multiple layers of clothing, including a mask. Her remains weighed just 25 pounds. The medical examiner listed the cause of death as apparent natural causes.
The discovery gave neighbors like Klatt a sense of relief but also anguish.
“To know, like, all that time when we sat and waited, she was in there,” Klatt said, thinking back. “Just like, laying there. It’s horrifying to think about.”
The rest of the world would have never noticed Katie Norton — if not for the people who called out for help. And still, they say, it wasn’t enough.
“She was overlooked,” Collins said. “They boarded up her house and left her there to rot.”