Coat Hanger Halos
Mummified body found in Hampton Bays home
BY SANDRA PEDDIE AND SUSANA ENRIQUEZ
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
February 16, 2007, 10:30 PM EST
Southampton police responding to burst water pipes in a Hampton Bays home found the mummified body of the owner -- dead for more than a year -- sitting in a chair in front of a television, officials said Friday.
The television was still on.
Vincenzo Riccardi, 70, appeared to have died of natural causes in his home on Wakeman Road.
The medical examiner's office considered his body mummified because the lack of humidity in his home preserved his features.
"You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," Bacchus said. "I've been on the job 35 years, and I've never seen anyone dead that long."
Police and county sources said Riccardi, whose body was found Thursday, had not been heard from since December 2005. The medical examiners said they were baffled as to why the electricity would be on in the home all that time.
"He was in his house, sitting in his chair, as if watching television, and the television was, in fact, still on," Dawson said.
Riccardi lived alone, his wife having died years ago, Dawson said. Mail had piled up, but then stopped being delivered.
"He hasn't been heard from in over a year. That's the part that baffles me," he said. "Nobody sounded the alarm."
Neighbors said they hadn't seen Riccardi for a while. They said they had tried to keep an eye on Riccardi, who had diabetes and had become blind in his 50s, but since his house was up a long driveway and could not be seen from the street, they did not always know what he was doing.
A couple who lived near Riccardi's house, Helen and Pat Boyle, said they never noticed mail piling up by the mailbox, which is visible from the street. A rope was attached by the front door and led to the mailbox so he could retrieve his mail.
"The word going around was that he was in a home," Pat Boyle said.
The couple said Riccardi built the two-story house -- where a waterfall of ice ran down over one of the garage doors from the burst pipe -- after he emigrated from Italy and worked in construction.
"This is a very sad situation that shouldn't have happened," Helen Boyle said.
Neighbor April Cowden said she would occasionally read Riccardi's mail to him, pay his bills and buy him groceries. When he began to demand more of her time in the summer of 2005, she said, they had a falling out. "I needed to go to work [one day] and he wanted me to stay," said Cowden, 37.
About a month later, Cowden said, she saw an ambulance at his house. When she saw the mail pile up, Cowden thought he was in the hospital.
At a neighborhood gathering last month, residents commented that they hadn't seen Riccardi in a while, neighbor Diane Devon said. "We never thought to check on him," she said.
Okay, all done?
I'll start things off with a quote from an old Temple of the Dog song, Wooden Jesus.
"Coat hanger halos that don't come cheap,
with television shepherds with living room sheep.
And I pray, can I be saved?
I spent all my money on a future grave.
Wooden Jesus, I'll cut you in,
on twenty percent of my future sins."
Let's put what happened here in perspective because, to be honest, I can't get the visual out of my head.
This old man died in his easy chair and for over a year, sat day and night, his body decomposing, the heat and humidity mummifying himself, bathed in the low light of day and the blue glow of his television at night.
How many bad sitcoms and reruns and news broadcasts of the war on drugs, the war terror, the war on Iraq, the war on Britney and TomKat and Anna Nicole Smith have cast reflections in his dead eyes?
This was not some po-dunk backwoods Unabomber neighborhood. This was a community he lived in. And for over a year, although some thought it odd enough to question his absence, no one did anything about it. No one took action.
And actions speak louder than words.
We live in an era where technology is king... cel phones and texting and the internet and email and message boards "connect us" in new ways than ever before.
But in oh so many ways, it has disconnected us from things that we may never get back again.
In oh so many ways, when something like this happens, it's not just the body of a 70 year old man that's overlooked and forgotten. In the cynical times we live in, it's become way too easy to let a part of ourselves mummify and decay.
Turn off the tv and look inward for a moment... is there mail piling up on your doorstep? At night, what's the blue glow you're bathed in?