When the body of 63-year-old Bessie Durham was discovered, she had been dead for four days. An investigation is underway to figure out how she remained unnoticed for that length of time in a Belk department store bathroom.
Body undiscovered for days
The company “declined to comment on policies surrounding the cleaning and inspection of restrooms or how often they are checked.”
On the surface it appears they’re checked only when the store gets a missing persons report.
This situation is a little trickier than that. The woman who died is the one who cleans the bathroom.
Officials say Bessie Durham was last seen alive on surveillance cameras entering the bathroom area at a Belk in South Carolina on Thursday, Sept. 15. Her body was found on Monday, Sept. 19. https://t.co/PSHylNyj1x
— WFAA (@wfaa) September 21, 2022
An employee at the Belk department store in South Carolina’s Columbiana Centre shopping mall was reportedly the first to discover Bessie Durham’s lifeless body, “after 8 p.m. Monday.”
The deceased was a contract employee with a third party vendor who cleaned the store’s facilities. She entered the gender neutral “family bathroom” at approximately 7 a.m. on the previous Thursday, store surveillance cameras confirm.
While Ms. Durham’s family was on the line with police filing a missing person’s report, they received a call from the store. They were informed that “a body was found in the bathroom.”
Coroner verifies ‘natural causes’
Coroner Margaret Fisher confirmed that Durham passed away about 7 a.m. on September 15 from natural causes. She wasn’t found until September 19.
The coroner relates that the door where she was found locks automatically. It seems that the victim was the one responsible for maintaining cleanliness.
As an independent contractor, Ms. Durham was used to performing her duties without supervision or much interaction with other employees.
Police are investigating the death of a woman found in the bathroom of a Belk Department store in South Carolina. https://t.co/1QS34z8N1S
— KSNV News 3 Las Vegas (@News3LV) September 22, 2022
Store security still has a lot to answer for. According to Melron Kelly, deputy police chief of the Columbia Police Department, “we’re still working with the mall to find out what their processes are for closing down the store, inspecting the store, and things of that nature because we do know that the person has been there for more than a day.”
Usually, in a department store it’s standard procedure to check the bathrooms to make sure no thieves are lurking. Once the store closes, they have the run of the place. Her body should have been found days earlier and they missed 3 prime chances.
“Her family will not have the opportunity to view their mother because of the state that she was in,” the coroner adds. Police are still determining whether they can pursue any charges of criminal negligence against the store.