MIAMI — On the wall was a President Supermarkets calendar with a kitten on the cover, and the days X'ed out, one by one.
In the bedroom, two women — a mother and her adult daughter — lay in side-by-side beds covered in blankets. Near the front door was the man of the house, Daniel Boli-Gbagra.
Like the women — his wife and stepdaughter — Boli-Gbagra, 48, was dead, wasted away in what police say appears to have been a case of slow, collective starvation.
Boli-Gbagra, apparently the last to die, had stuffed clothes under the door frame.
In the white-tiled, one-bedroom Miami apartment were books and hand-scrawled notes attesting to the family's devotion to a sect that believes in extraterrestrial beings and human cloning. As their lives flickered out, they wrote vivid, rambling letters in French invoking their faith and cataloging their physical and mental state.
To homicide investigators, death is a part of everyday life. They are summoned when a corpse is discovered and attempt to piece together the puzzle.
The deaths of Boli-Gbagra, his wife, Magali Gauthier, 48, and her 23-year-old daughter, Tara Andreze-Louison, have yielded no such closure, just questions that have police and the staff of the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's office genuinely perplexed.
"I've not had a case like this," said Miami-Dade Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Emma Lew, who has 20 years of experience. "It's a fascinating case."
Seemingly they just gave up on society, said homicide Detective Roderick Passmore.
"It's one of those cases, when I retire, I'll never know," Passmore said.
What police do know about Boli-Gbagra is that he lived a quiet life in what was likely a noisy apartment, as cars and trains rumbled past day and night.
A former New York cabbie originally from the Ivory Coast, Boli-Gbagra had relocated by 2007 to South Florida, getting a job at Winn-Dixie in the produce department. On May 4, 2009, Boli-Gbagra married Gauthier, originally from Martinique.
The two of them and Gauthier's daughter lived together.
They weren't hermits. Because the family didn't have a car and walked everywhere, neighbors saw them often. Sometimes the women dropped in at the Winn-Dixie where Boli-Gbagra worked. They also frequented the local branch of the public library.
The women, both coiffed in distinctive Afros, communicated little, however, often not even looking up when neighbors said hi. Sometimes they would walk to the other side of the street to avoid contact.
As for Boli-Gbagra, "he was quiet, but he liked to talk when people talked to him," said Apoleon Louissaint, who trained him for his job at Winn-Dixie.
Like a lot of South Florida real estate, the duplex they lived in had problems. It got tangled up in foreclosure as early as 2007. With the owner mired in bankruptcy, the bank took over the property.
When the water and electricity were shut off, tenants were offered checks to relocate. But Boli-Gbagra turned down the $1,500, even though, at some point, he lost his job at the Winn-Dixie.
With the taps shut off, Boli-Gbagra would turn to neighbors and others for water.
Anthony Vargas, who lived next door, noticed that the daughter seemed disturbingly gaunt. He knocked on the door to check on the family's well-being, but there was no answer.
Another neighbor offered to get the family help from her church, but they declined.
On the morning of April 13, a foul odor brought police to Apartment B.
It appeared that Gauthier had been the first to die, followed by her daughter, then Boli-Gbagra.
Investigators believe the deaths may have been spaced out over nearly two months.
Handwritten notes detailed the family's slow and agonizing decline.
"Today it has been eight days since we haven't had anything to eat," read one entry. "We don't have any money either. Without recourse, we will be headed toward death."
As the days passed, the pleas became more desperate.
"There are some days when I have asked you to give us something to eat because we are about to die from hunger. Yesterday was 16 days since we haven't eaten."
Another handwritten note, not dated or signed, says: "Today Daniel said that we had to pray for someone to give us something to eat … that all of America knew in what condition we were in and did nothing so now we have to pray to our god Elohim and they said that they would give us money to be able to eat."
The bodies were carted off to the medical examiner's office, the women cremated.
Someone created a memorial on the terra-cotta stoop of Apartment B — a white teddy bear with pink paws, three plastic Gatorade bottles with the tops cut off to hold candles, and a bluish vase holding artificial red roses and peach calla lilies.
Six months later, the flowers are scattered and the bear is weather-worn.