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South Side woman charged with neglect in grandmother’s death

Nicole Falls

Nicole Falls

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Updated: April 9, 2013 11:42AM

A South Side woman has been charged with elderly neglect after her malnourished, bedridden grandmother was discovered dead with maggots in her hair, bed sores, skin ulcers and chemical burns on her body caused by lying in her own urine.

Nicole Falls, who is listed as a Chicago Public Schools cook in a police report, never sought medical help when Della Cotton cried out in pain nearly every night in the last few months of her life, Cook County prosecutors said.

Instead, Falls allegedly gave 90-year-old Cotton Tylenol from “time to time.”

When police and firefighters came to the family’s apartment on Dec. 20, they found Cotton’s lifeless, discolored body covered in bedsores, assistant state’s attorney Joell Zahr said. The senior citizen allegedly had maggots in her hair and flies buzzed around her corpse.

Falls, Cotton’s primary caretaker, had called a funeral home to take the body, but when officials saw Cotton’s deteriorated condition, the funeral home refused to take the body and called 911, Zahr said.

An autopsy conducted by the Cook County medical examiner’s office revealed that Cotton died of hypertension, arteriosclerosis and “elder neglect.”

Doctors found chemical burns and abrasions on her face, neck and genital area, where the injuries were most severe, Zahr said. Cotton also had skin ulcers on her buttocks and her ribs protruded from her underweight body, Zahr said, adding that it was highly possible that the Cotton’s injuries contributed to her hypertension.

Cotton, who had adopted Falls’ mother, moved in with Falls’ family, in the 400 block of West Marquette, four to five years ago, Zahr said.

Three to four years ago, Cotton suffered a broken leg that rendered her homebound and unable walk. Over the last year, she was bedridden, Zahr said.

Falls, 40, had power of attorney over Cotton’s matters and routinely cashed the elderly woman’s monthly disability checks, Zahr said.

Falls allegedly admitted to police her grandmother’s condition deteriorated over the past year and that she ignored others when they told her Cotton belonged in a hospital.

During the last week of her life, Cotton stopped eating and became less responsive. Still, Falls didn’t seek medical help, Zahr said.

The day Cotton died, one of Falls’ children told her when she came back home from work that Cotton was unresponsive and not moving, Zahr said.

Falls, who wore a gray sweater, black coat and slacks at her bond hearing Thursday, has a prior battery conviction for which she received supervision.

Assistant public defender Marijane Placek noted that there were other adults in the residence where Cotton died as well as the three-month delay before Cotton’s arrest.

Judge Donald Panarese Jr. ordered Falls held in lieu of $750,000 bail for elder neglect resulting in a homicide.

Chicago Public Schools officials said Falls works as a lunch room attendant but did not know what school she serves.

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