One week ago, Forest Hills residents were shocked by the discovery of two women, Leah and Ilene Roth, both dead in their tenth-floor apartment in Forest Hills.
Since then, friends and distant family members have discovered the news slowly. Leah, 88, and Ilene, 79, were each other's only immediate family, according to several people who knew them.
They lived together in the apartment for more than 30 years, one distant relative said.
"Leah and Ilene never married or had children, lived with their parents till they died, and after that, the sisters continued to live together," said Andrea Dale, a relative who lives in Florida.
Elena Nacanther, a friend from Brooklyn, met both Leah and Ilene in the 90's when they would make guest appearances on a WOR radio show through Leah's job in advertising. She stayed friends with the sisters and spoke with them often on the phone.
"They had health problems, though they seemed to be doing better the last time I talked to them. It's all very shocking to me," Nacanther said. It seemed clear to her that the health problems had created a struggle in the apartment.
She said Leah had suffered a stroke a little over a year ago, and that the two sisters were helped by a home health aide paid for through Medicare after a brief stay in an assisted living facility. After several months, the Medicaid payments stopped, and Ilene had to care for her older sister herself, despite difficulties of her own.
"Ilene was taking care of Leah, but Ilene was having memory issues," Nacanther said. "Last time I talked to her, she seemed a little confused."
On Tuesday afternoon, the Medical Examiner said an investigation into their causes of death was still pending, awaiting results from tests conducted last week.
Leah and Ilene were found by the building superintendent last Tuesday who went into the apartment to investigate a water leak. They were identified by police at the time, though a representative from the Medical Examiner's office said they were still awaiting an official identification from someone who knew the sisters.
Patch readers poured their hearts out after news broke last week, as well. Reader Luna Chou commented on the site that she remembered Ilene teaching in Queens in the 1980's.
"She was my 5th grade teacher at P.S. 174 during the 1980s. She was very unique and she introduced her sister to the class on a few occasions. I knew they were very close," Chou said.
Nacanther, who visited the Roth's for Thanksgiving two years ago, said she was working through the shock and grief.
"They really were very nice ladies, they would do anything for you, they were very sweet," Nacanther said. "It's just such a shame for them to die this way, to be alone with no one to help."