Undated photo of Charles Zigler, whose mummified body was found in his friend's home on July 6.
The discovery of the rotted corpse of a 67-year-old man who had been kept in his girlfriend’s house for more than 18 months was prompted by a 911 call from a family member who grew concerned after not being able to contact him, police in Michigan say.
A recording of the 911 call, provided by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and posted on mlive.com, gives a glimpse of relatives' increasing concern over the fate of Charles Zigler.
Barb Zigler called 911 on Friday to ask that Jackson, Mich., police check on the welfare of her uncle, known as “Charlie.”
Asked by the dispatcher why a welfare check was needed, Barb Zigler says:
“We’ve been trying to get a hold of him. My aunt is being put in hospice – that’s his sister – and my cousin’s been trying to get a hold of him for quite a while, and my brother even stopped in about a month ago and his girlfriend’s always saying that he’s gone. But he’s on oxygen, he can barely get around by himself. Nobody’s heard from him in quite a while. We’re concerned about him.”
Barb Zigler continued:
“She’s always telling everybody that he’s gone and we don’t understand how he can be gone when he’s in such bad shape.”
It turned out Charles Zigler wasn’t gone – his mummified body, covered by blankets, was found lying in a cloth recliner chair in the living room of his longtime companion, Linda Chase. Police believe he died around Christmas 2010 and his body had been left decaying in the house since that time. An autopsy concluded Zigler died of natural causes -- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Chase, 72, told WILX-TV: "He just went to sleep."
She said that she didn’t want to part with her good friend.
"It's not that I'm heartless. It's just that after so many bad things happen to you, I don't know," Chase told mlive.com. "I didn't want to be alone. He was the only guy who was ever nice to me.”
But authorities say there could be another reason for not reporting Zigler’s death: Chase could be facing felony fraud charges for allegedly cashing his benefit checks, according to police.
Chase has admitted to cashing her friend’s benefit checks and figures she’ll likely go to prison, mlive.com reported.
Jackson police Lt. Chris Simpson said Thursday that police are still poring through financial records to determine the total amount of Zigler’s benefit checks that were fraudulently cashed.
“We have to go back from the time to death to investigate some monetary fraudulent activity. That’s going to take a lot of time,“ he told msnbc.com.
“As of right now … it looks like it will definitely be a felony here, if not two felonies, she may be facing.”
It’s unclear if Chase broke any laws concerning failure to report a dead body.
“We haven’t found any modern law that pertains to this situation,” said Mark Blumer, Jackson County chief assistant prosecutor.
However, he said, Michigan has a statute that says anything that was a crime under common law and that has not been replaced by a modern statute continues to be prosecutable under modern law. (Common law is the system of deciding cases that originated in England and was later adopted by the United States.)
“If something was a crime under common law and there’s no modern equivalent you can still prosecute it as felony,” he said.
Blumer said his office was awaiting the final police report before making any charging decisions.
“We have made no determination at this point what type of prosecution, if any, will result in this case. It’s too unusual a situation to shoot from the hip,” he said.
Simpson said there had been no previous police incidents at Chase’s house, and it’s not known how long Zigler’s body would have gone undetected had it not been for the niece’s 911 call.
Walter Zigler told mlive.com he tried more than once to visit his ailing father, who he said was a smoker, used an oxygen tank and had lung problems, but Chase wouldn't let him.
“That wasn’t right to leave him lay like that,” he told mlive.com.
“The family was concerned. Even the girlfriend of the deceased had mentioned that family members had come by and tried to call, and each time she gave them an excuse," Simpson said. "Obviously, the family had enough of what the excuses were and called 911.”
Zigler’s body was turned over to family members for burial.
Simpson said the case is unlike any other his department has dealt with.
“We’ve come across bodies before where relatives haven’t seen a person in three to five days and we go by there and find a deceased. But it never has extended to where someone has kept a body and not reported it,” he said.“We’ve just never come across a case like this.”
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