Since at least 1976, the woman who calls herself Seven has lived without a formal identity.
She says she's 71 years old and a lifelong Cubs fan. She has fleeting childhood memories of visiting the Indiana Dunes but can recall little else and suffers from
. Her fingerprints are deformed and unreadable, according to Chicago police, who issued a found person report in 2003. Nobody has come for her.
She is one of five state wards in Illinois whose identities are a mystery, people commonly known as a Jane or John Doe.
Each one has mental and/or physical health issues and is bound in layers of bureaucracy made worse by the lack of a name or Social Security number. Taxpayers, hospitals or
homes pick up the tab for their care, sometimes for years.
"If it's possible for a person to be nobody, I think this is it," said David Stein, a longtime resident at St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Chicago,
where Seven lived for nearly three decades before landing in state care.
Dozens of unnamed people show up in emergency rooms or police stations every year, and in most cases they eventually are identified.
When a hospital patient doesn't have identification, nurses, social workers, doctors and secretaries question the paramedics and call police and homeless shelters. They look for clues in personal belongings, such as a grocery coupon card on a key chain. Employees at
, for example, have identified people based on video rental cards.
"We have a sort of joke," said Jessica Pawlowski, manager of case management at Northwestern Memorial. "We always say our second career is like CSI, a private investigator."
If all leads are exhausted and patients are unable to care for themselves, the Office of State Guardian, considered the last resort for indigent adults, steps in.
"(John Does) are rare, and they are extremely challenging. And ultimately
we would like to learn their identities and, if possible, help reunite them with family," said Helen Godlewski Brownfield, program director of the office.
The guardian office has handled 79 Doe cases in the past 20 years, though most patients are identified and don't remain classified as Does for long, said Godlewski Brownfield.
Aside from Seven, Illinois' other unidentified wards are men. All are officially known as John Doe, but some of them go by names they've provided that can't be verified.
Witek Doe, who is developmentally disabled and speaks very little, lives in a Skokie community-based home. He told police he is Witek Dziedziecki from
, but a search turned up nothing.
He's been in state care since 2006, when he walked into Northwestern Memorial and said his chest was hurting. He was well-dressed, with new shoes and a recent haircut, indicating he wasn't homeless. Authorities believe someone dropped him off. His caretakers think he is Polish or Romanian, though translators haven't helped uncover much information.
Shannon Night, who suffered
and has organic
damage, lives at Chicago Read
Center on the Northwest Side. Though he appears lucid, details of his past escape him. He has an arrest record in Cook County, but he gives various names and aliases, including variations of Shannon Night, records show. The guardian's office has the first name Sanane Night as an alternative spelling. He has been in state care since 2007.
The soft-spoken man believes he has a son and possibly a wife. He carries a red folder — inside he writes notes in an effort to jog his memory. Also in the folder is a handmade greeting card he hopes to give to the son he believes he has. He says of remembering his past: "I'm working on it."
Robert Rockefeller, who lives at a Northlake nursing home, has "altered mental status" and is "disoriented to person, time and place," according to probate court records. Like Night, he has an arrest record and has given police dozens of names and aliases, records show. He was hospitalized last year with heatstroke and became a ward of the state.
John Doe, currently living at Riviera Manor nursing home in Chicago Heights, has bounced from nursing home to nursing home because of behavioral issues. He suffers from schizoaffective disorder, officials said. The guardian's office took his case in 2004. He was in a mental health facility before that, but little else is known about him. Ask him his name, and he'll give you a different one each time.
Seven Doe has lived at Lakefront Healthcare Center in Chicago since 2003. Unlike her roommates who display pictures and gifts from family, Seven has nothing. She was hospitalized in 2003 after going into
shock and has been in state care ever since.
Seven "is (an) amnesia patient," a caseworker wrote last year. "Has never remembered her name, SSN or anything about herself."
Before 2003, Seven lived at the St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Chicago's
neighborhood for 27 years, police said.
In all that time, "nobody knew her real name," Stein said. "Seven had no past whatsoever."
Each of the Does receives different levels of support from the patchwork system of public aid.
pays for care of state wards who can prove U.S. citizenship, but that proof is impossible for a John Doe.
Changes in Medicaid rules that went into effect in 2006 strengthened requirements for proof of citizenship, meaning John Does who became state wards since then are unable to prove they are eligible for the aid. They are often treated as charity cases by the hospitals or facilities where they live.
"That rule hit hardest the people who are not in a position to be carrying around their documents," said John Bouman, president of the
National Center on Poverty Law.
Since Robert Rockefeller arrived last summer, his care at Villa Scalabrini Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Northlake has cost the nursing home about $47,000, according to a spokesman.
One former John Doe has lived at Centegra Specialty Hospital in Woodstock since July 2009, costing the hospital more than $300,000, a spokeswoman said.
When medical facilities foot the bill, there's pressure to move patients along to the next facility or declare them fit for release, putting the patients at risk, experts said. "It turns into a messy situation," said Krista Butler, an administrator for the Office of State Guardian.
Seven Doe and John Doe have been in the system long enough that they are covered by public aid. Witek Doe is eligible for public funds because he is developmentally disabled. Shannon Night doesn't qualify for public aid, but he lives in a state facility, which subsidizes his care, his guardianship representative said.
Finally, a name
When the Tribune started asking questions last fall about Illinois' Doe cases, the Office of State Guardian provided a list of seven. (Late
last week, the office reported it was also appointed as guardian to an unidentified patient at Northwestern Memorial, though police are still investigating). A reporter asked about fingerprinting procedures, and two John Does who had not been successfully fingerprinted in the past were then
The guardian office worked with the facility that houses each person, and their prints were run against law enforcement databases, said Deborah Leurquin, an agency caseworker known as a guardianship representative.
The search turned up matches for two John Does who had been known as Carlos and Raul, though only their names and birth dates are currently known, Leurquin said.
Their living situations remain the same, and their guardian said it's too soon to know what will happen to them now that they have been identified. Efforts are under way to locate any family, she said.
Fingerprinting and searching for identity clues are typically the job of police, and by the time the guardian office gets involved, there's not much more to be done, Godlewski Brownfield said.
Guardianship representatives each
about 130 cases of all different types of wards and spend most of their time visiting various facilities. They will follow up on leads if they find any, but they aren't focused on solving ID
, the agency said.
"We're not investigators," Leurquin said.
Fingerprint records confirmed Raul is in fact Raul Marinero-Moz. He is 83.
The man known as Carlos has been a ward of the state since 1998, longer than any of the other John Does. He doesn't speak and likely had a stroke that caused brain damage, caretakers said. He also suffers from psychiatric issues, the guardian's office said. He uses a wheelchair and wears a medical helmet to prevent injuries. His only reaction to people is a wide smile and a giddy giggle.
Staff at Maplewood Care in Elgin learned Carlos' identity Nov. 29, which they also discovered was his 53rd birthday. That day, caretaker Azucena Herrera went to Carlos and uttered the name Crispin Mareno.
The usually giggly man fell silent
after hearing his real name for the first time in at least 13 years.
Then tears ran down his cheek.