By John Wisely, Christina Hall and Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — For at least five years, the woman’s body lay clothed in a winter jacket in the backseat of her Jeep in the garage of a home where she lived alone.
Her bills were automatically deducted from her bank account, and residents of the quiet middle-class Pontiac, Michigan, neighborhood 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 Wednesday in the attached garage of the ranch-style home, according to the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department.
Undersheriff Mike McCabe said investigators believe 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 there was 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 parchment-like 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 backseat and clothed in a heavy jacket and jeans, leading him to believe the woman may have 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 may 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 Thursday from his home. “There was no indication there was a body in there, at all.”
Tilly said he and his neighbors are shaken.
Renea Garrett, 46, said she felt bad about the death and the body 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 want bad in 2009. At the time, many people were leaving their homes because they could no longer afford them.
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 repair man.
“He went into the garage and saw the mummified remains in the backseat 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.
Photo: ifmuth via Flickr