After Law and Order: Special Victims Unit ended, I watched the 11 o’clock news on Channel 4. There had been teasers about this story during the commercial breaks of my shows, and at first I reacted the same way I would to a story in “News of the Weird.” I was still shaking my head and laughing about this story. But when I went to The Dispatch‘s Website just now and pulled up the story, it stops being funny or ironic. A woman had been dead–apparently from natural causes–in her house for over a year, while thieves gradually picked the place bare. Finally, one of the Good Samaritan thieves had the sense to let the neighbor know.
“Last Saturday, I saw a guy take out a chair over his head. He had some other things in his hand,” Lindsay said. “It was 8:30 a.m.”
The two-story wood-frame house, long left open, was filled with trash, had no electricity and was an easy target for thieves. The longtime homeowner, Joyce Maitland, hadn’t been seen for months.
But yesterday afternoon, one of those hoodlums came to Lindsay’s door and asked her to call police.
Visibly shaken, he told her that he had discovered a body buried in the debris.
“I told him, ‘I hope that haunts you until the day that you die,’ ” Lindsay said last night. The thief then fled.
Three times before, as far back as summer, Columbus police officers had gone to the Bulen Avenue house. Sometimes, it was because people were ransacking the home. At least once, they were told a body was somewhere inside.
But they never found it.
“If you would see the house, you would probably understand it,” homicide detective Pat Dorn said. “You can’t take a step without stepping on 6 inches of trash.”
The corpse was buried in trash and so badly decomposed that police stopped short of saying for certain whether it was a man or woman, pending an autopsy today.
But the assumption was that the body was that of Maitland, 68.
There were no obvious signs of foul play, but an autopsy is needed to pin down how she died, Dorn said.
Neighbors told police they hadn’t seen Maitland in months. Some thought she had moved away.
“Her mail was stopped over a year ago,” Dorn said.
A son who arrived at the home yesterday afternoon told police that Maitland was estranged from her children. They hadn’t talked for about a year.
“They argued over the cleanliness of the house, her living habits,” Dorn said.
The son, reached at a neighbor’s home, refused to comment.
Maitland, a retired registered nurse, spent months at a time away from home, caring for relatives in Brooklyn, N.Y., Lindsay said.
“She was a little on the strange side. Once you started talking to her, she would talk you to death,” Lindsay said. “I think it was because she lived alone.”
That is a grim and tragic way to end one’s days. In the fall of 1985, I was living in the Y in downtown Columbus, working part-time as a typesetter for the late unlamented Ye Olde Typesetters IV (don’t ask–I’m as baffled now as when I first heard the name) and a series of temp jobs. I was a childless bachelor in those days, and I was out and about when I wasn’t working–libraries, bars, bookstores, fast-food restaurants, etc. My room at the YMCA was little more than a place to store my belongings and sleep.
There was an older man who lived down the hall from me. He had lived there since World War II, when he had come to Columbus to work as an engineer for Battelle, or some other place that was doing war work. He made quite a bit of money, but he decided to live frugally and simply, and lived in the same room 1942 or 1943 until 1985.
He died in his sleep one Wednesday night, but nobody thought to check on him until the following Sunday, and by that time you knew about his condition just by taking a whiff down that hallway. Several other Y residents–independently of one another–had come to the front desk and said, “The guy hasn’t come out to eat or pee in three days. You’d better check on him.” And nobody did, until the smell was so foul that people were starting to complain.
I had quite a workout today during my lunch break. Steph and Susie and I had lunch at Au Bon Pain downtown, which entailed a zigzag fast walk from the William Green Building to the restaurant, which is on the southeast corner of the State House lawn, next to Trinity Episcopal Church. I had a good chicken and dumplings soup meal with sourdough bread, but burned most of it up in the mad run back to work afterwards.
We received a thank-you card from one of the couples who came to our Thanksgiving fete on Thursday. I am sure I would have fared better in the Trivial Pursuit game if it had covered more material from a longer period of time. Steph’s rationale for letting me be my own team is that, “Paul has Asperger’s syndrome. He remembers everything he’s ever read.” (The latter is not true, and it’s never been.) This type of buildup made my poor performance sting all the more. I suppose I should be flattered by what Steph said, but part of me wonders if it’s the equivalent of “— is Black, so he’s very good at basketball and tap dancing.”
Maybe I’m getting more hypersensitive as I age.