Heartbroken family, friends remember elderly siblings found dead at Bradenton home

vmannix@bradenton.comJanuary 9, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Leonard Lanager was a generous and meticulous man, who knew a thing or two about stocks and bonds and bought a home here in 1992.

Rachael Mattern enjoyed a successful career in management with Marriott in Philadelphia.

They were siblings and Lanager, a widower, convinced his sister to move into his home on 32nd Avenue West after her husband died. Neither had children.

"We were glad she moved, because we were worried about her being alone in that big house," said niece Cheryl Pflugrad in Caldwell, Idaho.

It was a gesture that typified Lanager.

"That was Mom's big brother," said niece Martha Howe in Seneca Falls, N.Y. "She always talked about him."

Today the extended family is at a loss for words.

So are the siblings' friends.

"We're heartbroken," said Joe Capozzoli in Wayne, Pa.

Brother and sister were found deceased at the residence Sunday by the Bradenton Police Department, who'd been alerted by a friend. According to police, Lanager, 89, had been dead a week, followed by Mattern, 80, days later.

"It's unusual to see two siblings deceased at the same location, but we don't see any signs of foul play," said Deputy Chief Warren Merriman. "All indications are it was from natural causes."

On Wednesday, a pair of Christmas wreaths still hung on the front doors and snowmen and Christmas lights decorated the front windows.

The gate on the chain link fence was locked.

The siblings kept to themselves, neighbors said.

"You'd see them, wave, and that's it," said Fred Palermo, who's lived nearby for 12 years. "They never talked to you, said, 'Hey!,' or anything."

"My family never interacted with them," said Mike Avery, who's lived across the street for two years. "They seemed like private people."

Relatives were aware the siblings were dealing with health issues, but having both die within one week has been devastating.

"My brother went down last summer to visit them," Howe said. "Len had stomach problems and she said something about her knee bothering her, but they felt they were doing fine at their age.

"That's why we're all shocked. Both at once? What happened those days in between?"

Pflugrad echoed that sentiment.

"If he died before her, why didn't she use the phone to get help? It doesn't make sense," she said.

According to police, there was no record of any emergency calls made from the house.

Merriman said the Manatee County medical examiner should be able to provide some answers.

"The autopsies will shed light on the cause of death and the approximate timeline of the deaths," he said. "But we've got to wait on that."

Meantime, relatives are trying to cope with their loss.

"I've got to get together with my brothers to decide what to do and give them proper funerals," Howe said. "We care about them."

Born in Clearfield, Pa., Lanager and Mattern were two of eight children and have three surviving siblings -- a sister in Tennessee and Texas, respectively, and a brother in New York.

There were conflicting accounts about Lanager's career.

Pflugrad said he worked on the railroad.

Howe said he was a welder.

Either way, Lanager made a good living.

"I'd ask him what I should do when it came to stocks and bonds and he'd always tell me," Pflugrad said.

"He was a very intelligent man. He held onto his money. Him looking after Rachael was good, too, because he was financially able."

Family members estimate Mattern moved here within the past five or six years.

It was fortuitous for the Capozzolis. They'd bought a winter home in Bradenton and were able to reunite with Mattern, who'd mentored Theresa Capozzoli when she worked part-time with Marriott.

"Rachael took a liking to my wife and did a lot of good things to help us," Joe Capozolli said. "When we discovered she was here from a Christmas card with her return address, we said 'Oh, my gosh!' We saw her last spring and showed her a photo album of our kids. It was beautiful seeing her again."

Yet when the Capozollis suggested going out together more recently, Mattern begged off.

"She'd say 'I'm not up to it,'" Joe Capozolli said. "It's so sad. She was a remarkable woman."

The pair's passing has not fully sunk in yet for some.

"We just got a Christmas card," Pflugrad said. "It's so unreal both are gone at the same time."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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