Authorities seek answers to why body was in burned apartment

03/13/2013 11:27 AM

03/13/2013 1:42 PM

Wichita homicide detectives and arson investigators are seeking answers in the death of an 65-year-old man found in a burned apartment in south Wichita on Tuesday afternoon.

The man’s body was discovered shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday by someone cleaning in the apartment at Southfield Apartments, 3161 S. George Washington Blvd. The multi-building complex is tucked on East 31st Street South, near McConnell Air Force Base.

The apartment was the scene of a fire reported shortly after 1 p.m. on Dec. 27, Capt. Joe Evans said. The fire was ruled accidental due to an electrical issue.

“We’re still not sure as to exactly what’s going on here,” Evans said after the body was found.

An autopsy is being conducted to determine the cause — and estimated time — of death.

The fire started in the living room near the front door, Fire Marshal Brad Crisp said. While the incident caused an estimated $15,000 damage to the apartment and its contents, he said, there was little actual fire damage, and it was confined to the area around a space heater, an extension cord and a power strip.

The victim was found in a bedroom under several layers of clothing by the foot of the bed, Crisp said. Maintenance workers had been clearing and cleaning the apartment for days.

“There wasn’t any fire damage in that room,” he said, though there was quite a bit of smoke in the apartment caused by the fire.

Neighbors told firefighters and a search-and-rescue team they hadn’t seen the tenant for two or three months.

“They thought he had left the country,” Crisp said. “We were under the impression he wasn’t even around.”

A search-and-rescue team still went through the apartment, which was filled with clothes, VHS tapes and other clutter in what Crisp described as “an excessive storage” situation.

But the discovery of the body is prompting a review of search-and-rescue procedures.

“If, in fact, we did miss somebody, that doesn’t meet with our expectations,” Crisp said. “Perhaps we need to do things differently.”

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