Wells Woman Discovered in Home Over 2 Years After She Died
WELLS, Maine — Police and advocates for seniors say the death of a woman found in her home here last week is a reminder that neighbors should look out for each other.
In this case, the woman was found 2 1/2 years after she died. Police had conducted well being checks on the woman — who was in her late sixties — during that time but say they never had reason to enter her home until last Friday.
Fifteen years ago, Lucie McNulty bought a mobile home in Wells on a rural dirt road. Wells Detective Joseph LaBier says McNulty moved to Maine from Buffalo, New York.
“We’re kind of operating under the assumption that she wanted the more ruralness of Maine,” he says. “And she didn’t really talk to anybody, and I think that’s why she came here.”
LaBier says about 2 1/2 years ago Wells police got a phone call from a man in Buffalo who was concerned about McNulty. He had sent her a Christmas card, but it was returned, and McNulty wasn’t answering her phone.
“So we went down and we tried to make contact,” LaBier says. “She didn’t answer the door, the house is locked up, all the curtains are drawn. We talked to some of her neighbors who said she was having problems with her leg pain, and they thought she was getting treatment at a local hospital or clinic.”
There was no reason for immediate concern, says LaBier. Six months later, he says, police did another well being check with similar results.
“We don’t just break into somebody’s house unless we believe they’re in danger or something of that nature,” he says.
Mail wasn’t piling up at McNulty’s house because it was being returned. U.S. Postal Service spokesman Steve Doherty says after mail accumulates for 30 days, it’s returned to senders.
“In normal circumstances, when the mail starts to pile up it’s not unusual for the carrier or supervisor to call police and say ‘Hey, you may want to do a wellness check on this house.’”
That call to the police sometimes comes after just a two-day pile up of mail, but Doherty says it depends on the mail carrier’s relationship with the person. LaBier says he’s not aware of a wellness check request from the local post office.
Two years passed after police’s second well being check. Then, last week, LaBier says, the town of Wells called police for McNulty’s contact information because she hadn’t paid her property taxes.
“And I started making some phone calls and it turns out that all of her family was deceased,” he says. “None of her neighbors had saw her. I went to her property, and the property seemed abandoned.”
LaBier says the appearance of McNulty’s house plus the fact that she wasn’t collecting Social Security gave police enough reason to enter her house, where they discovered she had passed away. LaBier says there was no foul play.
“The thing that I come away with from this is that it’s important that we take care of our friends and our neighbors, and we watch out for them — especially people who are getting up there in age,” LaBier says.
Jess Maurer of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging agrees that neighbors need to be engaged and watch out for each other.
“Thirty percent of older adults in Maine live alone,” she says.
And many don’t have kids, who might typically check on them, says Maurer. Though police departments across the state offer daily well-check programs, she says they’re underutilized because many older adults don’t want to be considered a burden.
“The best check-in programs are the programs that have neighbors calling on neighbors, calling on neighbors, calling on neighbors,” Maurer says. “So that you’re part of a chain that is very important.”
So that each individual feels useful, says Maurer.
LaBier says the Wells Police Department has a well-check program called Good Morning where participants call police daily. If police don’t get a call and they can’t reach participants by phone, police have permission to enter their homes.
LaBier says only about a dozen people are enrolled in the program.