Woman’s Auto-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.

22 comments

    • Angel

      I know isn’t this heartbreaking and absolutely unbelievable? My cousin just share a similar story of a woman in England. She laid down on her couch watching tv and died. They made a movie about it. “Dreams of a Life” I can’t remember the details but I think they said her television was still on.

  • Anya

    Somethings about this situation that just don’t add up – what happened to the mail – 6 years worth of mail and it never piled up – if I went a month my mail would be out the front door with all the junk mail alone. Who was picking up the mail? Her family didn’t hear from her in 6 years and never wondered why? That must have been one heck of a bank account to auto pay for that long before it ran dry!!!!

    • KB

      I was thinking the exact thing. Did the Post Office not notice her mail stacked in her box? I know after a period of time they’ll not put it in the box if it is full but damn! 6 YEARS??? Something is terribly wrong here!

  • mandy

    a lot that doesnt make any sence here ie.. the mail, the yard, and her job not questioning where she was, or her family either. and why was she found in the back seat of her car that isnt normal

  • Tara G.

    I think this story leaves a lot of details out. I also think we will find out later exactly what has been left out. Mail, employment family. Where was she traveling did they never wonder why she didn’t arrive?

  • vickie

    If she had a social security check or retirement check deposited in her account every month and her bills paid through bill pay that would be normal enough. if she had a post office box and refused catalogs a lot of mail could’ve piled up IF she had anybody who wrote her. And if she had become disoriented due to a stroke or even low blood sugar she may have opened the back door to the car thinking it was the door to the house. Lots of families are not close.

  • Michael

    How do you say someone travels a lot and at the same time she been dead for the last 6 years? Id know after 1 year if my neighbors were not there Id think :)

  • Joyce

    The local news here in Detroit reported that she did have a PO box, and that her bank account had $54,000 in it.

  • Pauline

    If she was on social security usually after so long they do a re certification to make sure everything is still the same. Her key was half way in the ignition and she was in the back seat. That alone raises red flags!! If there was some kind of foul play, I pray they get justice for her!! Oh yea, when they did a welfare check on her, did they not think checking the garage for her car was important???

  • MW

    How Sad that no one missed her for 6 years??? What kind of life did she lead that no one would miss her. So sad…. And she was in the back seat, not the front? But keys were in ignition??? Something strange going on… Or went on… 6 years ago.. :(

  • virginia

    if my kids don’t hear from me in a day or 2 they get worried. and my mail would pile up to after a week or 2, something just isn’t right’ and should be looked into so this poor woman can rest in peace.

  • Martha Smith

    This is so sad, I think it is highly suspicious that she was in the back seat and the keys were half way in the ignition, I think there should be some good investigation as to the circumstances. And if she had a son why didn’t he miss his mother for 6 years. I think her finances should be checked into and see if there was cash withdrawals coming out as well as her bills. It really needs to be investigated that is for sure.

  • Connie

    I think in a lot of places after 30 days of accumulated mail, if the mailbox is not emptied, it starts being returned to sender.

  • pat

    I dont think she was old enough to be on social security, they said she was in her 40’s. And the fact that she was in the back seat and her keys were half way in the ignition really sounds strange. If she had a son then he is either responsible or he has a problem with his mother and didnt want to see her again.

  • sherry

    How nobody not even her family know she was missing. They havent seen her in 6 yrs. Red flag something wrong there..

  • surprisemom44

    If she and the son were not close, I dont think that is suspicious. Who knows what kind of relationship they had. My father and I have not spoken in 4 years. I leave messages but he doesn’t return my calls. He has psychological problems. Maybe this was the case here. As for her being in the backseat, they don’t say what position she was in. She could have gotten in there for any reason, to kill an insect, wipe up a spill, and left the keys in the car and collapsed. And if she had a PO Box but all her bills were on AutoPay, who would have been sending her mail. If her own son wasn’t close to her. And I have a neighbor who is a flight attendant. She is out of town up to 2 weeks at a time, there have been periods up to 7 months where i have not seen her, but even if it were longer, I probably wouldn’t keep track. I would assume that surely someone else had seen her.

  • kristy

    So sad,I hope they do a investigation to get to the reason she was in her backseat and the keys were only half way in,I agree something just don’t seem right,and from the sounds of it she was a younger person,she could have easily died from natural causes,but for 6 yrs nobody even missed this lady?? That had to be a lonesome life she led,RIP–IF there was any foul play I pray she gets justice for her death..

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