The vacant home in Dayton, Ohio, where a boy found a mummified corpse
By Jeff Truesdell
06/17/2014 at 02:00 PM EDT
It's a scene out of a horror movie set in the suburbs – with results true and tragic.
Michelle McGrath says her 12-year-old son was drawn to the vacant home with the long-overgrown lawn on Harbine Avenue in Dayton, Ohio, and decided to poke around inside. But neither of them could have expected what he found there on Sunday afternoon: the leathery, mummified remains of a man hanging in the closet.
"He was found suspended from the neck still from a belt in the closet. So it appears to be a suicide," coroner Kent Harshbarger told WHIO.
Not only that, but the remains have been there for five years, the coroner told WDTN.
Based on clues investigators found inside, Harshbarger tentatively identified the remains as those of 53-year-old Edward Burton, who bought the house in October 2009 and apparently died shortly afterward.
While neighbors questioned how the discovery could go undetected for so long, the shock registered most keenly for McGrath and her son.
"[He] came home and he said to me that he had gone into an abandoned house and he found a body," McGrath said. "And I said, 'Wait, what?' "
"When he first came across it, he thought it was a dummy or a mannequin or something."
The body was not completely decomposed because of the conditions inside the closet where it was found.
"It was relatively protected, sunlight-protected, temperature-protected, and low humidity," the coroner said.
Alberta Ballard, who has lived directly across the street for 40 years, told WHIO, "I didn't realize there was anybody in the house."
After her complaints to the city about the unkempt yard, crews periodically mowed the grass. But otherwise, she said, "There was no activity. No one coming and going. It looks just like it does now."
Authorities said Burton has a brother in the area, but he hadn't seen Burton since 2008.
McGrath, who quizzed neighbors, said some told her they did recall an odor years ago. "One of them said to me, 'I smelled something one day, but I thought something crawled and died underneath the shed.' "
She fretted over the fate of someone dead for so long while no one took notice.
"I think it's disturbing that the neighbors didn't smell it, they didn't call, that people aren't more involved in their neighborhood," she said.