Bellingham police theorizing how couple died in littered home
By Jack Nicas, Globe Correspondent | July 17, 2010
Police believe a bizarre chain of events left an elderly couple and their dog dead in their cluttered Bellingham home, where police found the bodies Wednesday, possibly a week after their death.
Richard Lamphere, 74, was found on a landing at the base of six stairs. Down another six steps was his companion, Susan Abraham, 62, with their yellow Labrador, B.J., “laying almost lovingly in her arms,’’ Bellingham detective Jennifer Gosselin said.
Abraham and the dog were covered with items that had been stacked along the walls, such as boxes of mementos.
Gosselin speculated that Abraham may have been trying to carry the dog after it was struck ill and fell into the basement, hitting her head. He said Lamphere may have come to help and suffered a pulmonary embolism, a clot in his lung.
Police have ruled out foul play and carbon monoxide poisoning, Bellingham police Captain Gerard Corriveau said. The medical examiner’s office found that Lamphere suffered a blocked lung and Abraham had bruising to the brain, Gosselin said. Official causes of death are pending toxicology tests. A spokesman for the Worcester district attorney’s office said the deaths are under investigation.
On Wednesday morning, a mail carrier gave Victor Bowen his next-door neighbors’ mail; she couldn’t fit any more in their mailbox. Then he saw six newspapers scattered in their driveway.
Police arrived at 11:30 a.m. They could hear a television, but no one answered. Then they spotted a body by the front door, Corriveau said.
Once authorities got inside, moving around was difficult.
“The house was quite messy, not in terms of garbage, just stuff. floor to ceiling, wall to wall,’’ Corriveau said. “You could describe them as hoarders, I suppose.’’
Walls were lined with books, plants, and bins of decorative and collectible items, “just a lot of bric-a-brac,’’ Abraham’s brother, Arthur, described it.
Bowen, 64, said they were wonderful neighbors. Abraham once mowed his lawn when he broke his arm. But over time he noticed a series of cars appearing.
“Over eight years they’d gone through 14 vehicles,’’ Bowen said. “They would drive away with one and come back with another.’’
Four vehicles registered to Abraham sat in their driveway Wednesday, Gosselin said. Inside the garage were piles of unused tools and three motorcycles, Bowen said.
Since a recent stroke, Lamphere was disabled. But Abraham still brought him to the same diner every day neighbors said, often with their dogs. One died a few months ago; Bellingham Animal Control took another found in the home Wednesday.
Abraham’s relatives said the couple had retreated from their families.
“She alienated herself,’’ said Abraham’s niece, Johanna Trumbour, 28, of Wellesley. “We called her, left messages. We sent cards on her birthday. . . . She never responded.’’
Since learning of the deaths, Abraham’s family reached out to Lamphere’s two adult sons.
Lamphere “did the same thing,’’ Trumbour said. “He hasn’t seen them in years either.’’
Abraham was a retired nurse; Lamphere was a former art teacher at Natick High School, police and neighbors said. He held several professional licenses: practical nurse, athletic trainer, fire alarm installer.
Jack Nicas can be reached at [email protected]