10/17/2014 03:24 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

Are Nosy Neighbors Good For Something?

Have you ever lived on a street with a nosy neighbor? You know; that neighbor who always seems to be peeking out the front room window or crossing the street to gab as you're getting your mail? Back in the late-60s and early-70s (or on retro TV just about any day this week), there was a show called Bewitched with an iconic nosy neighbor named Gladys Kravitz. The other people in the neighborhood thought she was annoying and her husband thought she was crazy but Gladys was the only person observant enough to realize that something wasn't quite right with the Stephens' family across the street (in the show, the wife, Samantha, was a witch).

Yesterday, I read a story from the LA Times about a nosy neighbor, not named Kravitz but Caccavo, James Caccavo. Reading that story gave me hope that nosy neighbors might be making a comeback, in our increasingly isolated and digitally-disconnected world.

According to the LA Times story by Bob Pool, back in 2008, James Caccavo's neighbor of 35 years, Sarah Cheiker disappeared and her house was subsequently sold and bulldozed. At first, Caccavo assumed his elderly neighbor had died but, after nosing around and not being able to find out exactly what happened to her, Caccavo took the unusual step of filing a missing person's report. There are people who might consider what James Caccavo did as meddling. After all, he wasn't related to Sarah Cheiker, so what right did he have to go sticking his nose in her business?

Four years later, FBI agents showed up in the neighborhood with the news that Sarah Cheiker was found living in Maine. Well, "living" was probably too generic of a term; the elderly woman was "abandoned and alone in a weathered cabin near the coast of Maine . . . living in squalor." Lincoln County (Maine) deputy sheriff, Robert McFetridge, was quoted as saying, "It was a place I wouldn't let my dog live in."

How was Sarah Cheiker discovered living in squalor on the coast of Maine? You guessed it; by another nosy neighbor, a meddler, who contacted authorities when things just didn't add up. Sarah Cheiker was found in a place people wouldn't let their dogs live in. It's ironic that sometimes we're more apt to call the authorities about a dog living in squalor than we are about a person living in squalor. With the dog, we're intervening; with the person, we're intruding.

Sarah Cheiker was found living alone, which wasn't usual for her. She lived alone in Caccavo's neighborhood after her mother died. Perhaps that's why she was susceptible to the lies and promises of the trio of people eventually arrested and charged with "endangering the welfare of a dependent person." This trio - twin brother and sister with another family member - spent the $712,000 from the sale of Cheiker's home (which she now insists she did not sell) on a cross-country buying spree, with Cheiker in-tow.

I don't know what prompted her to trust these people but, I suspect, part of the reason could be loneliness. Loneliness, as research has shown, kills. From just one study: "...the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity."

Loneliness takes its toll. So does becoming involved with people who lie, steal and abuse. Generally, those aren't the people who live across the street. Of the trio who "befriended" Sarah Cheiker, the Lincoln County prosecutor said, "They purchased numerous properties across the country with her money. I've seen things that were egregious, but I've never seen a person taken across the country, stripped of their assets and left to die."

Left to die, if not for the meddling interference of nosy neighbors.