A small plaque bearing a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King hung on the wall of the squalid rowhouse at 1313 Wilcox St. It bore the inscription, "Let the Dream Live On."
Early Saturday morning, police went to the house and found three hungry, partially clothed children. A fourth child had gone to a neighbor's house and begged for food, and the neighbor called the police. The youngsters' mother, Janet Moore, 23, has been charged with four counts of child abuse for allegedly abandoning the children, whose ages are 7 months and 2, 3, and 5 years.
Yesterday, an eviction order was executed at the house as police continued to search for Janet Moore. Tina Moore, the children's aunt, stood outside the house and wept for her missing sister. She also expressed relief because the children were now living with their grandmother.
Based on Tina Moore's words, life inside the rundown, rat-infested house bore little resemblance to Dr. King's dream.
"This is the end of the nightmare," Tina Moore said.
Ms. Moore said she did not know the whereabouts of her sister, whom she described as a "great mother" who "did the best that she could [being only] 23 years old. She did her best.
"I've had thoughts that someone came and took her," Tina Moore said as she wept.
Tina Moore, 26, said that the landlord, A Management Co., failed to make repairs to the house, and the squalid living conditions often depressed her sister, who did not work but received welfare payments of more than $377 per month. The children's father is serving a jail term for assault with a deadly weapon, Tina Moore said.
William Toohey, a spokesman for the city Housing Department, said the owner of the house, R. William Connolly Jr., was cited one month ago for numerous housing violations at the Wilcox Street address.
The violations included rat infestation, a defective roof, defective electrical fixtures, chipped plaster in the dining room and bedrooms, a hole in the kitchen floor and a basement door that needed to be replaced. A deadline of July 13 was given to Mr. Connolly to repair the violations, Mr. Toohey said.
Instead of fixing the dwelling, Mr. Connolly chose to evict Ms. Moore, who owed $360.93 in back rent plus a $37 court cost, according to the rent division of city District Court.
Mr. Toohey said that Mr. Connolly owns more than 600 properties in the city, and that last month, 254 of them were either vacant houses with notices to repair or were properties with outstanding violations.
Mr. Connolly has a history of housing violations, and between 1980 and 1989 he was convicted 18 times in housing court, Mr. Toohey said in a 1991 article in The Evening Sun. In 1985, Mr. Connolly was sued by then Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs for failure to return security deposits and for disrepair of dilapidated rental properties. He settled the suit by agreeing to fix his properties.
When police went to the house on Wilcox Street, they found the infant in a cradle, the 2-year-old on a sofa, and another child sitting on a step. The fourth remained at the neighbor's house.
Half-cooked hamburger patties were in a skillet on the stove, the police report said.
"Somebody attempted to cook food. There were exposed ground beef patties picked at by the children or by animals," said Sgt. Richard Price, of the Eastern District.
The interior of the three-bedroom rowhouse was described by police as having "very unsanitary living conditions."
Human feces were found on the floor and in the toilet of the bathroom. The kitchen ceiling was partially collapsed with wallboard scattered on the floor and on top of the stove. Chicken wire was used in place of window screens.
After yesterday's eviction, neighbors scavenged through the clothes and furniture that had been placed on the street. The items including a crib, mattresses, tables, a television set, a refrigerator, a stove and clothing and shoes bundled in bedsheets.