A Sydney woman was dead for nearly 8 years until someone noticed she was missing


Two elderly women walk along a street in Berlin, Germany, on Sept. 18, 2012.


Sean Gallup

Australian media have dubbed her “the woman Sydney forgot.”

For nearly eight years, Natalie Jean Wood lay dead on the floor next to her bed in her increasingly derelict house in an inner-city suburb. 

In that time, not a single person missed her or thought to check on her wellbeing.

Her relatives didn’t try to contact her.

Her neighbors assumed she had moved in with family.

Utility companies and the local council didn't notice anything amiss, even though her unpaid bills were piling up outside her door.

No one gave Wood a second thought.

It was only in July 2011 – a month before the former war bride and department store machinist would have turned 87 – that police pushed open the door of the house where Wood had lived for most of her life and discovered her skeletal remains in her upstairs bedroom. 

Sadly, Wood attracted more attention in death than she ever did alive. The discovery received widespread media coverage and caused much soul searching in Australia's biggest city.  

With no will or children to claim her estate, which included nearly $80,000 in the bank and a house estimated to be worth more than $800,000, several long-lost cousins suddenly emerged to claim their share of the spoils.

Their claim was challenged by Enid Davis, who was married to Wood’s brother, who died in 2009.

“The prospect of money probably brings out the worst in characters,'' Darryl Browne, a wills and estate specialist, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

''The sister-in-law was absent for eight years as well, so I don't think anybody comes out of this with great glory, frankly. It is an indictment on society, on all her relatives, her neighbors, the gas people, water people, social security.''

The last confirmed sighting of Wood was on Dec. 30, 2003, when she went to a local pharmacy to pick up her high blood pressure medication.

She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor a month earlier and was no longer on speaking terms with her brother and sister-in-law after they refused to care for her.

An inquest into Wood’s death this week found she probably fell over in her bedroom in February 2004 and died alone some time after that.

How long she lay there alive, trying to summon help, no one will ever know.

Davis, who is likely to inherit Wood's estate on behalf of her dead husband, told the inquest she had been too busy to visit or call her reclusive sister-in-law who apparently had no friends to speak of. 

"I had no time. My husband (who had dementia) was in 24/7 care," she said.

In 2011, two years after her husband’s death, Davis asked police to help her contact her sister-in-law. That was when they entered the house, which by that time was full of cobwebs and dust, and found Wood's remains. 

NSW State Coroner Michael Barnes made no recommendations when he wrapped up the inquest on Thursday.

''That the death of a lifelong resident of a high-density housing area should remain undiscovered until after all the flesh had rotted from her frail bones caused public disquiet,'' Barnes said.

"Human sensibilities are naturally offended by the thought of an old woman decomposing in her house without anyone inquiring to ascertain what has become of her.

"However, platitudinous comments about a need for a more caring society would achieve nothing."

He’s probably right. This was not the first time the remains of an elderly person had been discovered in their home years after their passing. 

And Australia is hardly alone in that respect. 

Around the world there have been countless cases of people, young and old, left to rot in their homes, unmissed and unnoticed.  

Here are just a few. 

-- In January 2006, authorities found the skeletal remains of 38-year-old Joyce Carol Vincent in her London bedsit. She had been dead for almost three years.

--- In May 2008, the mummified body of Hedviga Golik was found in her tiny apartment in the Croatian capital of Zagreb 35 years after she died. No one had reported her missing.

-- In February 2012, Japanese authorities found the mummified body of Harue Saito, 78, who they believe died three months earlier.

-- In November 2012, cleaners found the skeletal remains of Simon Allen in his flat in Brighton on England’s south coast two years after he passed away.

-- Last May, the decomposed remains of author Barbara Salinas-Norman were discovered in her apartment in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Authorities believe she had been dead for more than a year.