Woman’s auto-bill payments hid her death for six years

(CNN) – For years, the payments went out of the woman’s bank account.

Nobody batted an eyelid. Bills were paid. And life went on as normal in the quiet neighborhood of Pontiac, Michigan.

Neighbors didn’t notice anything unusual. The woman traveled a lot, they said, and kept to herself. One of them mowed her grass to keep things looking tidy.

At some point, her bank account ran dry. The bills stopped being paid.

After its warnings went unanswered, the bank holding the mortgage foreclosed on the house, a common occurrence in a region hit hard by economic woes.

Still, nobody noticed what had happened inside the house. Nobody wondered out loud what had become of the owner.

Not until this week, when a worker sent by the bank to repair a hole in the roof made a grisly discovery.

The woman’s mummified body was sitting in the backseat of her car, parked in the garage. The key was halfway in the ignition.

Authorities say they believe the woman died at least six years ago. They’re still trying to figure out what happened.

“I’ve been doing this 37 years. Never seen anything like this before,” said Undersheriff Mike McCabe of Oakland County, Michigan, just outside Detroit.

Rarely heard from

The woman, who authorities aren’t identifying until they’ve informed her family, paid her bills from her bank account through auto-pay, according to McCabe.

Neighbors said they didn’t know much about the dead woman, describing her as in her 40s and of German descent.

“She really kept to herself. We never really heard anything from her,” neighbor Caitlyn Talbot told CNN affiliate WXYZ.

Talbot said she wasn’t aware of anyone having seen the woman, who traveled a lot, in about six years.

“She was probably there for a couple of days, then she’d leave for a week, then she’d come back. Then she’d leave for a month and come back,” Talbot said.

McCabe says neighbors chalked up the woman’s absences to her returning to Germany for long periods of time.

Despite years without a living owner, the house was never broken into, he said.

Authorities told WXYZ that the house appears to have black mold inside it, and that detectives entered the building Thursday wearing hazardous material suits.

Another neighbor, Darryl Tillery, told the Detroit Free Press that mail never piled up at the house and the lawn never grew out of order. McCabe said one of the neighbors cut the grass for years.

Cause of death undetermined

Police were dispatched to the house for a welfare check in 2007 after a neighbor reported not having seen the owner in a while. After seeing no signs of anything amiss, police went on their way, McCabe said.

Authorities are still waiting for a toxicology report, which will take four to six weeks, before determining the cause of death. The medical examiner found no signs of trauma to the body, McCabe said.

Dr. Bernardino Pacris, the county deputy medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, told the Detroit Free Press that the woman’s skin was still intact, but that the internal organs had decomposed.

Pacris told the newspaper that during the mummification process, skin develops a parchment-like consistency and leathery texture. Finding a body in such a condition is unusual, he said, but “once in a while, we see this.”

Attempts by CNN to reach Dr. Pacris late Thursday were unsuccessful.

By Jethro Mullen and Kevin Conlon

11 comments

  • Mistymoistymorning

    THis is the saddest thing ever. SIX YEARS, and no one thought it was strange that their neighbor seemed to have disappered-even though they were regularly mowing her lawn to keep up appearances? Sad that keeping the lawn mowed was more important than knocking on the door to say hello once in a while. “She was probably there for a couple of days, then she’d leave for a week, then she’d come back. Then she’d leave for a month and come back,” Talbot said. Well, if they hadn’t seen her for YEARS, I can’t imagine why anyone didn’t at least check to see if she was OK. I am someone who minds my business-I don’t really socialize with my neighbors much, but even I would think it was weird if I hadn’t seen them for such a long time.

    • Amanda

      They did. It says a neighbor reported to police to do a welfare check. The police came and nothing seemed amiss. This was back in 2007.

    • edna powers

      where was or is her family why wasnt her family every around did they not have contact with each other. i dt care how made i get at my mama it will not be 6yrs to see or talk to her, if i havent heard from my mama in a day i track her down my whole family does.

  • jen

    It doesnt make any sense that she was sitting in the back seat and put the key in the ignition to start the car. Who starts their car from the backseat and then sits back down??t

  • Steph

    She probably committed suicide. Turned the car on in the garage. Went and sat in the back seat to more comfortable? The keys could have gradually turned backwards over the six years after the car died or maybe she changed her mind and leaned forward to turn it off but it was too late. You never know. I’ve lived in my house for 18 years and still don’t know some of my neighbors. I would never know if something happened to them. It’s really sad though.

  • Mike Wessells

    a welfare check should include entering the premises…not just walking away from the residence because nothing seems “amiss” the police dept failed miserably on this one.

    • SARDOC

      The Police are limited because they had no probable cause to enter the property without a warrent. The Police would be making entry into homes more frequently under the auspices of a “welfare Check” if they could disregard that persons right to privacy.

  • Kelly

    Wow! Very sad. Neighbors are not at fault. Police are not at fault. The only way someone could know would be to break in. Once the bank owned the house, they had the right to do so. I think her job (if she had one) would be the first place I would check – like did you notice she just stopped working? Sad though, no family or friends?!? And yes, the key thing and she being in the back seat is weird.

  • Anastasia Adams Denton

    She “could” have been cleaning her car. (Listening to the radio)

    Or yes she could have also lost her job as well. Although she apparently had enough money to go on for some time off her savings as well. Just yeah odd…..I can see why they didn’t try harder, she could also have left it all & stayed back in Germany with family as well. So many possibilities.

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