The state medical examiner ruled Tuesday that a Portland woman who died alone in an apartment in a condemned East Bayside building had suffered a sudden heart attack.

Margaret Peters, 56, had a medical condition known as arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or hardening of the arteries, said Mark Belserene, an administrator at the Medical Examiner’s Office. The condition can lead to a lack of blood flow to the body’s organs and tissues. Plaque buildup in arteries can break apart, triggering a heart attack or stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Peters, who had struggled with homelessness and possibly with mental illness, was found dead July 7 at 31 East Oxford St., a three-unit apartment building that was under intense city scrutiny because of excessive police calls. Police believed Peters had been dead for several days and immediately ruled out foul play.

The medical examiner didn’t finalize a cause of death until Tuesday. Belserene said the determination was made by examining Peters’ body and medical history, coupled with observations made at the scene.

Margaret Peters, 56, of Portland, who struggled with homelessness, was found dead July 7 at 31 East Oxford St., an apartment building under scrutiny because of excessive police calls. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Peters’ body was transported to Conroy-Tully Funeral Home in Portland. The funeral home has declined to discuss whether family members claimed her body or planned a funeral service. But a small group of people gathered July 18 at the Preble Street resource center to remember Peters, who was known as Maggie.

Peters had been living at 31 East Oxford St. for about a year. In May, the building was condemned by the city based on the number of police calls, including reports of suspected drug activity and a sexual assault, according to city records. The city ordered the landlord, Clark Stephens, to evict all of the tenants and turn over management to a professional company.

The three-unit apartment building was also well-known to city inspectors, who had responded to reports about a leaky roof, a lack of heat and excessive trash buildup.

Despite those conditions, Peters, who shared her story with the Portland Press Herald in June, fought to stay in her apartment, even though she said she didn’t feel safe there. She had been kicked out of her apartment on Grant Street after the building was sold so the new owner could renovate the units and charge higher rents.

With the help of Pine Tree Legal, a nonprofit that provides free legal help for low-income people, Peters successfully fought two evictions. She wanted to remain in the building until she could find a new apartment rather than return to the city’s crowded homeless shelter.

But Peters hadn’t found a landlord willing to accept a housing voucher – non-voucher tenants are willing to pay higher rents, according to her caseworkers at Preble Street.

Peters’ only income was Social Security disability benefits. Seventy percent of her rent was paid with a Shelter Care Plus housing voucher from the Shalom House, a nonprofit that helps people with mental illness.

Katie McGovern, an attorney at Pine Tree Legal, said she became concerned when Peters did not show up to court July 6 for an eviction hearing. She was found a day later by her landlord, Stephens.

After allegedly failing to comply with a consent agreement to fully turn over management of his property to a professional company, Stephens agreed to board up the East Oxford Street apartment building by Sunday, Aug. 6, and list it for sale.

It was the first time the city has taken such a drastic action under its nearly 20-year-old disorderly houses ordinance.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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