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Grandmother's remains lay in Clearwater storage unit

CLEARWATER — From the outside, Unit B8 of U-Stor Self Storage didn't seem at all suspicious.

A family had stored stuff like old TVs and banana boxes in the 10-by-10-foot room for more than 25 years. Only recently had they fallen behind on rent.

It wasn't until U-Stor managers told the family that they would auction off the items inside the unit that B8's bizarre secret became clear.

You can't do that, a woman told the managers. Grandmother's in there.

That led to the discovery Thursday afternoon of the skeletal remains of a woman who had died in 1995. She was found in a painted blue coffin inside the unit, which is not air-conditioned.

Police said the dead woman's granddaughter told officers that she didn't know about the remains until last year, when her mother revealed their location as she lay on her deathbed.

Police recovered death certificates for both women. On Friday, Clearwater announced that the mother's body was properly disposed of through a funeral home in Alabama. They also announced that there was nothing else suspicious found in two other storage units that the family rented at the business.

Police didn't initially release the names of the three women.

The woman in the coffin appeared to have been "properly processed" for burial, medical examiners told police. So far, there is no answer to why she wasn't buried. Police don't think she died under suspicious circumstances.

But improper disposal of a body is a crime. No one had been charged as of Thursday evening.

Kevin McKeon, a district manager for the storage facility, said the family had been delinquent on monthly payments for Unit B8 since Dec. 1. McKeon said he spoke with the granddaughter over the phone this week about the late bills, which is when she told him about the remains.

McKeon has frequently heard prank calls from people who claim suspicious items have been left in storage units, so he questioned the veracity of what she said.

But just in case, he locked B8 with extra padlocks and changed the tenant's gate code.

Because McKeon was busy on Tuesday and Wednesday selling repossessed items at storage auctions, which have been popularized through TV series like Storage Wars, he said he delayed checking the unit until Thursday.

McKeon said he opened the unit Thursday afternoon, saw the casket and immediately called police. Patrol officers arrived and pulled the casket out of the unit. Then they opened the lid and saw the remains inside.

Detectives and crime scene investigators swarmed to the business. Crime scene tape was unspooled. Soon media trucks arrived.

Amid all the activity, the whistles of nearby school crossing guards could be heard.

Police said the remains will be taken to A Life Tribute, which provides indigent burials from chapels in Largo and Gulfport.

"There are More Important Things in Life," the chapels' website states, "than High-Priced Funerals."

Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com.

When managers opened a storage unit after a strange claim over the phone, they saw a blue casket and called police.

Drew Harwell | Times

When managers opened a storage unit after a strange claim over the phone, they saw a blue casket and called police.

Grandmother's remains lay in Clearwater storage unit 01/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 3:58pm]
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