MARION, Ill. – Bruce Pitts had a feeling something was wrong when the newspapers began piling up in the roadside tube outside the southern Illinois home of Fred and Blanche Roberts.
So on Sunday, the worried newspaper carrier cracked open an unlocked side door and saw 84-year-old Blanche Roberts helplessly looking back at him, her right leg pinned beneath the body of her 77-year-old husband — who apparently had been dead for days in the home just outside Marion, Ill.
"The good Lord was with her. She was not scared, wasn't panicking. Nothing," Pitts said Tuesday during a telephone interview. "She was conscious, talking. Just peaceful. It was remarkable."
Williamson County, Ill., coroner Mike Burke said Fred Roberts likely collapsed and died of a heart attack Wednesday evening after mowing the lawn, based on accounts from people who were visiting the home that day.
"They said he was really beat-red in the face, that he didn't look good," Burke said.
He described Roberts as "a good-sized man," though he declined to divulge the man's proportions.
But there was no doubt that Blanche Roberts, once pinned on a landing leading from the kitchen to the basement, couldn't wriggle free. Burke said she was trapped in "kind of an awkward position;" Pitts said she was sitting up but wedged against a wall.
"She was 84 years old and was very frail. She probably don't weigh 90 pounds soaking wet," said Pitts, who delivers the Southern Illinoisan, published in nearby Carbondale, Ill.
Pitts said he began to worry early Sunday morning, when he noticed the papers he'd dropped off for the Robertses the three previous days hadn't been retrieved.
"It was never like them to leave a newspaper in their tube," he said. "That wonderful, small voice inside me said, `This isn't right."'
Pitts went home, napped briefly and, with his wife, went to check on the Robertses.
They repeatedly rang the doorbell but got no answer before Pitts saw a side door and tried that doorbell. Again, no response. So he eased open the door and saw the couple about two feet inside.
"I asked her about her husband just to see what her response was. She said, `Well, he's sleeping. He'll be up in a little while,"' Pitts said. "But then she knew her name, knew her relatives. Everything we asked her."
The woman insisted she was fine and seemed at peace. Her only request was for water.
"Whenever they got her out from under her husband she didn't make any kind of scene," Pitts said.
Blanche Roberts was taken to a hospital in nearby Herrin. The hospital on Tuesday wouldn't confirm whether she still was being treated there; Pitts said the couple's relatives told his wife Monday that she was in the intensive-care unit and doing fine.
Calls by The Associated Press to the Robertses' home Tuesday went unanswered.
Fred Roberts' funeral arrangements are pending.
Pitts, who'd been delivering on his route for three years, said he had never met the Robertses before Sunday. But he had reason to think fondly of Blanche Roberts, who often tipped him in letters and was known to Pitts and his wife as "The Prayer Lady."
In her missives, "Blanche would say, `I've been praying for you at night whenever the weather's bad, realizing you're out in it delivering our papers,"' said Pitts, a minister who makes his living as an independent courier of office supplies. "We'd always say a little prayer back."