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St. Petersburg woman's remains found in her home months after her death

ST. PETERSBURG — They finally found 78-year-old Joan Greeley in the bedroom.

No one really knew her, or much about her. Many neighbors had never seen the frail woman with porcelain white skin. She refused to let people in her home.

Which may explain the peculiar circumstances of her discovery:

Head propped up against a wall, legs extended under the bed. Her left arm was draped across her chest and her right arm at her side.

She had been there about four months, her skeleton now mostly exposed.

• • •

Greeley's home of at least 10 years is on the west side of Fourth Street N, just across the street from Sunken Gardens, down an alley and behind a 6-foot wooden fence. It is a small apartment in the back of a one-story block building.

A man who has lived in her building about five years said he saw her, once, but didn't know her name.

Andy Sasala, who lives in a next-door apartment, said for a long time he didn't even know her apartment was there. He thought there were four units, not five.

"She really was as much of a hermit as somebody can be," said Michael Novilla, the managing member of Crescent Lake Apartments, which owns the building. "She really did not want anybody to come inside ever. It's a sad thing for sure."

Neighbors wondered how she supported herself, how she paid the bills, when she shopped for groceries.

And the most obvious question.

Why did it take so long to figure out she died?

• • •

Greeley's building is in foreclosure.

Last week, McKinley Inc, a large apartment management company, took over property management from Crescent Lake Apartments.

On Friday, police said property manager Ronald Toole went out to inspect the units.

Just before 1 p.m., he came to Greeley's apartment at 423 ½ 18th Ave N. He knocked. No response. Key in hand, he opened the door.

A strong smell of death hit him.

He walked into the cluttered apartment and found Greeley on her back in the bedroom, police said.

He left and dialed 911.

• • •

It's unclear exactly how long she lay there unnoticed.

Police think it was likely about four months. They found a newspaper dated June 26 inside her home. They don't suspect any foul play.

Police have not found any family members.

There's no evidence that there was anyone in her life as far back as 1992, said police spokesman Mike Puetz.

Bill Pellan, director of investigations for the Pinellas-Pasco medical examiner's office, said an autopsy has been conducted but the cause of death is still pending.

• • •

Neighbors were saddened by her solitary passing.

"Nobody should have to go that way," said Kathy Seaton, 48. "I wish I would have known."

Les and Sandra Ambush rented out their garage apartment to Greeley about 16 or 17 years ago. They couldn't remember exactly.

"She kept her head down and walked fast and worked hard," Ambush said.

She turned down offers to come and sit and have family dinners except for one Thanksgiving.

"I think she was upset that she didn't have a family or wistful that she lost touch," Ambush said.

They didn't know why she moved out. They lost touch.

"That is sad," Ambush said. "I really feel bad now."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reporter Danny Valentine can be reached at (727) 893-8804 or at dvalentine@sptimes.com.

St. Petersburg woman's remains found in her home months after her death 11/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 11, 2011 11:27pm]
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