Tragedy in Michigan
Since 2008, body waited to be found in garage
By John Wisely, Christina Halland Niraj Warikoo DETROIT FREE PRESS
RYAN GARZA DETROIT FREE PRESS Police tape surrounds the house in Pontiac, Mich., where a mummified body was found in a Jeep in the garage.
DETROIT — For at least five years, the woman’s body lay clothed in a winter jacket in the back seat of her Jeep in the garage of a home where she lived alone.
Her bills were paid automatically from her bank account, and residents of the quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Pontiac, Mich., said they noticed nothing amiss.
Nobody saw her, but the grass was cut and the mail didn’t pile up. Some neighbors said they thought she had moved out of the country after the recession hit several years ago.
Eventually, the money in her bank account ran out and the house went into foreclosure, leading to the gruesome discovery this week.
The body had mummified, Oakland County officials said, adding to the mystery.
A contractor the bank sent to check out the house discovered the body on Wednesday in the attached garage of the home, said the Oakland County sheriff’s office.
Undersheriff Mike McCabe said investigators think the woman has been dead since at least 2008. That’s the year the license plate on the Jeep expired.
“She had $54,000 in her account, and her bills were being deducted,” McCabe said. “Eventually, the money ran out, and her house went into foreclosure.”
The undersheriff said neighbors told deputies they thought the woman had moved out of the country because they had not seen her for three or more years.
An autopsy showed no trauma to the body; a cause of death is pending, McCabe said.
Dr. Bernardino Pacris, the Oakland County deputy medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, said the skin was intact, though internal organs had decomposed. He said he found no evidence of internal or external injuries.
Pacris said that in the mummification process, skin will develop a parchmentlike consistency and leathery texture. Climate, weather and humidity play a role, he said. He said finding a body in that condition is unusual, but “once in a while, we see this.”
Pacris said the body was on the back seat and clothed in a heavy jacket and jeans, leading him to believe the woman died when the weather was cold. The key was in the ignition but in the off position, Pacris said.
He said the immediate concern is confirming the woman’s identity and learning more about her, including her medical history and social habits, to determine the cause of death. McCabe said some relatives on the East Coast might have been identified, but he withheld the woman’s name until they could be notified.
Neighbor Darryl Tillery, 49, said the woman’s mail never piled up at the house and her lawn was kept neat. “It was pretty manicured,” he said on Thursday from his home. “There was no indication there was a body in there, at all.”
Renea Garrett, 46, said she felt bad about the death and the body’s not being discovered for so long. “People need to be closer to each other and check on your neighbors,” she said.
Another neighbor said he assumed that the woman had left after the economy went bad in 2009.
McCabe said neighbors had complained about a hole in the home’s roof and said raccoons were getting in. The company managing the house for the mortgage holder sent a repairman. “He went into the garage and saw the mummified remains in the back seat and called 911,” McCabe said.
McCabe said the electricity was still on in the house but moisture had caused black mold throughout. Detectives planned to wear protective suits to inspect the rest of the home, he said.
Must confess, this has me feeling helpless and ashamed. Six years is a long time to sit alone in one’s garage, in a Jeep. . . .and not be missed. . . . no one even knows or cares. But no one is to blame — that’s kinda how many of us live today, isn’t it?
Imagine what an efficient lady she was; all those details she took care of in advance, just in case. . . .have to believe that she knew intimate closeness in her life, knew others, and they mattered at one time. It helps to believe that she is with those she loved now and has been for years. She has moved on. . . and so we must as well. It wouldn’t hurt to send her a smile and warm wishes. Jan)