VIRGINIA BEACH — If you did a Google search for “Irene McLean Virginia Beach,” you wouldn’t find much.
You wouldn’t learn that by age 96 she had traveled to more than 100 countries, or that she used to dance in San Francisco theaters.
Her love for swimming and yoga isn’t documented on Facebook, and until recently, there was no obituary published online in her memory.
What you would find if you Google searched “Irene McLean Virginia Beach” is the condition she was in three weeks before she died: Covered in bruises, skin tears and bedsores that exposed bone and tendon, and with crusted eyelids, soiled clothes and feces under her fingernails.
Death leads to neglect investigation
McLean’s friends found out about her Jan. 10 death through a Google search.
The search brought them to a Southside Daily article that was published in February which detailed how on Dec. 14, McLean was taken from a Virginia Beach home on the 900 block of Tigertail Road by Adult Protective Services.
McLean had been living in the house since around October 2015 with a relative who also had power of attorney.
An ambulance took McLean to Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital where a doctor examined her.
The doctor told police that McLean suffered from “multiple skin ulcers from abuse or neglect” which showed “neglect for more than three months,” according to documents filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court.
The relative she was living with told police McLean hadn’t seen a doctor since an April 2016 visit to a Henrico County Patient First Office.
McLean died three weeks later in a hospice facility. Her death led the Virginia Beach Police Department to begin investigating whether or not she was neglected and if neglect killed her.
The news of McLean’s death and the criminal investigation shook her friends who hadn’t heard from her in more than four years.
“It just made me physically sick to hear this,” her friend Randa Pratt said. “She lived her life how she wanted to except this last chapter, which is so horrifying.”
An unexpected move
McLean lived much of her young life in Los Angeles and spent more than 60 years in San Francisco. She had a group of good friends who she met while swimming at the Club at Harbor Point. They were all about 20 years younger than her, but McLean was young at heart and quickly became part of their social group, said a friend named Patty Fitch.
Some of those friendships she maintained for 30 or 40 years.
“I don’t think we ever really thought about age when we were with Irene,” Fitch said. “She was so physically in shape and mentally sharp. She kind of stayed young in her spirit.”
McLean lived alone in her Marin County, Calif. home on Ricardo Road for almost 30 years. She’d been married to a man named Dan who died in 1983, but the couple never had children together.
McLean was close to her younger sister, who lived in Virginia Beach and who died in 2014. Other members of McLean’s extended family also lived in Hampton Roads, although Pratt said she wasn’t very close to them.
Southside Daily has chosen not to disclose the names of McLean’s family members, including those who interacted with her in the years before she died.
Pratt and other friends said she intended to leave her Hampton Roads family members her estate when she died.
“Irene had no children, so people leave money to their blood line,” Pratt said
McLean’s move to Virginia in 2012 or 2013 — no one could remember exactly — surprised her friends, who said they hadn’t heard her talk about transitioning to the East Coast full-time.
Her friends remember the move in different ways. Some say her family forced her to leave California, while others say she talked about going to spend more time with her sister, but that she would be coming back.
One thing was certain: McLean was 92 years old and beginning to show signs of dementia.
“Irene was probably at the point where she should not have been living alone,” Pratt said. “I don’t think she wanted to go, but I’m sure the draw was that she could go be with her sister. She and her sister were really close.”
Four years of silence
During McLean’s last few days in California, some of her friends visited her and met her family. They gave her relatives their contact information and were comforted by promises that the family would have McLean call them when she got to Hampton Roads.
But a call never came.
For a while, McLean’s friends tried to call her. Occasionally a family member would answer, but they never put McLean on the phone. They would tell McLean’s friends that the woman was doing well and swimming every day.
After several failed attempts to reach her, McLean’s friends gave up. They figured she didn’t want to talk to them or that the family was trying to protect her from becoming homesick.
“I gave up on the whole thing after a number of years,” said another friend, Jean Mastagni. “I thought ‘They’re not going to let us talk to her.’
“I think what all of us regret is that we could have asked for the authorities to get involved, but we didn’t,” Mastagni added.
There was limited communication between the family member who served as McLean’s power of attorney and her good friend, Steve Kovacs.
Kovacs said that between 10 and 15 years ago, he and his brother, John, took out a $200,000 loan from McLean to do home repairs. In November 2015, Kovacs made arrangements with one of her family members to pay the debt off after that relative proved he had McLean’s power of attorney.
For a while, friends stopped by McLean’s California home to clean out the moldy refrigerator or check on the grounds, Mastagni said.
But in 2014, the home was sold for a little more than $1 million, according to property detail documents provided by Mastagni, who is a realtor.
That wasn’t the only money McLean had come into in her life. After her husband died, McLean sold the theater they owned in San Francisco. Several of her friends remember her netting several million dollars in the sale.
McLean’s friends say that they are sure she was well off, but even if she hadn’t been when she left California, the sale of her house alone should have been enough money to provide her care.
Now they wonder what went wrong and if criminal charges will be filed.
“She could have been well taken care of in a beautiful assisted living facility,” Pratt said. “Older people do deserve some respect and care. Irene should have been well cared for.”
The VBPD confirmed that the investigation into McLean’s death is ongoing, but declined to comment further on it.
Mayfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.