Cost-conscious elderly twin sisters found dead in uncooled Texas home

By Calvin Palmer

The frugal lifestyle of elderly identical twin sisters living on a fixed income cost them their lives when they were found dead in their Texas home yesterday after enduring 100-degree temperatures for the past few days.

The bodies of 82-year-old Florence and Emma Jernigan were found in the San Antonio home they had lived in all their lives.

Police say the single window air conditioner in the home was switched off.

The sisters rarely switched on the air conditioning unit or even a box fan that a neighbor gave them last year, citing a tight fixed income as the reason.

Next-door neighbor Irma Alfaro, 64, called 911 yesterday after not hearing from the sisters for several days and noticing a foul smell coming from their home.

Firefighters forced their way into the house in south San Antonio and found both women dead. One of them was lying on her side on the couch; the other was on the floor near a rocking chair.

It appears the two women died of heatstroke but Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office has to give the cause of death.

“We all think it was heat exhaustion,” said Michaela Gonzalez, 72, who knew the twins throughout her life. “I would tell them to turn the fan on, but they wouldn’t listen. You had to really talk to them stern to get them to listen to you.”

Officials said they are not sure when the women died. Friends last saw the sisters Monday, when Gonzalez’s daughter went to their  home to move their TV antenna so the women could watch their beloved daytime shows.

“My daughter would call and get them to turn the air on before she came over,” Gonzalez said.

The city set or tied heat records four times in the last week of June, topping out at 104 degrees on June 29.

The two women never married and lived cheaply, washing their clothes by hand, cutting one another’s hair and dining on inexpensive TV dinners.

They had never worked and lived off the money they inherited when their parents died about 20 years ago. Friends said it appeared the women did not have any close relatives.

Laura Cisneros, manager for the city’s Senior Services Department, said the twins never sought assistance from them, nor from a senior nutrition center less than two  miles from their home.

Cisneros said San Antonio operates nearly 80 such centers where seniors can eat a healthy meal and spend time in an air-conditioned building.

She said her department also connects seniors with assistance in paying for utility bills, prescriptions, basic medical equipment and case management.

“There are so many resources, yet these two sisters didn’t have anyone to turn to,” Cisneros said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

[Based on reports by the San Antonio Express-News and Associated Press.]

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