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FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. – A Fairview Heights woman has been jailed for allegedly living in a home with her mother’s dead body, possibly for more than a year.

The terrible mystery at the house on Oxford Avenue began to unravel Monday, according to the Fairview Heights Police Department.

Firefighters were in the area checking neighborhood hydrants, police said. A neighbor asked them if they could check on the elderly woman who lived in the house and hadn’t been seen for a long, long time.

“We knew that she wasn’t mobile … couldn’t get around,” said neighbor Erika Langenhorst. “Not seeing her for almost two years now gave us concern because even though there was a pandemic, she should have gone to doctors’ appointments and things like that.”  

Police responded and spoke to the woman’s daughter, 48-year-old Reena Hayashi, in her garage. They told her neighbors were worried about her mother, Karen Hayashi. 

“Reena Hayashi answered the door and actually told them that her mother was fine and had flown to Hawaii,” said Det. Sgt. Aaron Nyman, Fairview Heights Police Department. 

Langenhorst told police Karen Hayashi was hardly able to make a trip to Hawaii.

Police went back to the house and Reena met them at the front door, Nyman said.  Her demeanor was suspicious and this time an officer noticed an odor. 

“During that time frame, Reena confesses at the front door after a little bit of questioning that her mother is, in fact, dead inside the house,” Nyman said. “At that point, she was taken into custody. Officers went into the house and verified that.” 

Officers found the decomposing body of Karen Hayashi in an upstairs bedroom. It’s unclear how long the woman had been dead. Her cause of death was not immediately known.

On Wednesday, the St. Clair County State’s Attorney’s Office charged Reena Hayashi with two counts of concealment of a death and one count of obstruction of justice. She remains in custody on a $60,000 bond at St. Clair County Jail.

Police list her mother as 80 years old but say Reena now tells them she died in Jan. 2020, possibly just before her 78th birthday. 

“It’s terrifying. It’s sad,” Langenhorst said.  

She told FOX 2 News she had been the Hayashis’ neighbors for 20 years, that Karen’s health had been compromised for about the last five years, and that Langenhorst’s family had called the state division of family services to check on Karen Hayashi in the past.   

“I just hope Karen has some peace now,” Langenhorst said. “She was a very sweet lady. When she was able-bodied, she was out talking to the neighbors. Everybody knew her. It’s kind of heartbreaking that it ended that way because she was a very social person and just kind of got cut off from the world, unfortunately.” 

According to court documents, Reena Hayashi continued to file her mother’s tax returns and accept her Social Security benefits.

There was also evidence of hoarding in the home, police said.

“This isn’t closed,” Det. Sgt. Nyman said. “There are potentially other charges we’re looking and there’s further investigation of the body itself to try and determine cause and manner of death.”  

Reena Hayashi