For more than three years, no one checked on the small white house with the unruly yard in this suburban community in southwest Florida.
A former caretaker's curiosity drove him to enter the home Wednesday, and he made a gruesome discovery: the partly mummified bodies of a German woman, her son and their German shepherd dog, undisturbed in their deaths since 1999.
Heinz Rubin, who has known the family since 1988, identified the bodies of Liz Fuchs, 63, and her son Josef Fuchs Jr., 34. Authorities were trying Thursday to solve the mystery of their deaths.
Autopsies conducted by the Lee County medical examiner in Fort Myers found "no gross signs of foul play," said Maj. Richard Chard of the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
Authorities were awaiting toxicology reports and tests on samples of hair and nails and the dog. Investigators found some medications in the home. Chard said no weapons were found.
Was it a murder-suicide? That's "an avenue we're exploring," Chard said.
Rubin said he checked the house because Josef Fuchs hadn't answered letters Rubin had sent to Germany, where the family once lived. He said when he last spoke to the Fuchses in January 1999, they told him of plans to return to Germany.
With the help of a locksmith, he entered the house and was struck by an overwhelming stench.
He found the body of the mother dressed in a housecoat, lying on the dining room floor. It appeared to have fallen off a chair.
The son's body was in bed, under some covers. The dog's remains were on the bed.
Rubin said sheriff's deputies later showed him a handwritten letter found in the house asked him to translate it from German.
A portion of it read, "Father forgive us for what we are doing," Rubin said. "It said "we,' not "I.' "
Larry King, a sheriff's spokesman, said two letters were taken into evidence but "whether they have any direct bearing, you just can't tell at this point."
In the dining room, an overhead lamp was turned on but the lightbulb was burned out. The house's air conditioning was on _ the cost of utilities was being deducted automatically from the mother's bank account.
Investigators found a calendar turned to Feb. 28, 1999.
The refrigerator held a carton of shriveled blueberries, spoiled milk and cheese. One package of cheese and the milk carried expiration dates in May 1999.
County records showed that the home was owned by the son, who listed a mailing address in Aachen, Germany. He last paid property taxes in 1998 and owed more than $4,500 in back taxes.
The News-Press of Fort Myers reported that two years ago police in Germany found the Fuchs residence near the Belgian border empty. They contacted Rubin, who said he did not know the mother and son had returned to the United States.
"One hand didn't know what the other was doing and they didn't check for whatever reason," Chard said.
Rubin said Josef Fuchs had a nervous system disorder that left him shaky and barely able to walk, but was very smart and had studied at a German university.
"He was her only boy and even though he was in his 30s, she still called him her little boy and he was always trying to prove that he was a big boy," Rubin said.
_ The News-Press of Fort Myers contributed to this report.