Body discovered years after death

Kenneth C. Curnow

While attempting a welfare check on Nov. 8, Ridgecrest police officers made their way to the home of a local woman who was under the care of live-in healthcare provider James Burke. There they discovered the body of the woman for whom they were looking in a freezer.

The case was so perplexing originally that the police held off on releasing the information until some of it became more clear.

Initially, contact at the residence could not be made. Officers returned at around 2 a.m. and made contact with Burke. After a brief conversation through an only slightly opened door, Burke announced that the woman was home and that he needed to “put on some pants,” according to head investigator Sgt. Dampier.

Moments later, a gunshot was heard. Dampier explains that there are “a few seconds where you don’t know what was shot. You don’t know he shot himself. You don’t know he didn’t shoot her, You realize someone else may be in imminent danger. So you make the tactical decision about whether it’s safe for you and your partner to enter.”

The officers on scene, wearing no more than standard issue gear, entered the residence and discovered Burke’s body as well as the body of the woman for whom they were looking.

The family members of the woman have been notified and identified the woman as something of a shut-in, which explains why it had been an estimated 6-7 years since she had made contact with someone, according to Dampier.

“On face value, there was nothing concerning,” said Danpier of the body in the freezer, “no reason to assume it was foul play. But the coroner’s report and toxicology labs will take weeks.”

Dampier also clarified suspicions regarding motive. Orginally it was assumed that Burke may have had a financial motive for murder because “he had power of attorney and control over finances and all that.” However as more information has become known, that theory has become just one among many. “They weren’t extravagant, they lived within their means, [Burke] had other income and was not hurting for money. It’s debatable whether or not that’s his motive.”

For unexplained reasons, the police department has refrained from issuing the name of the female decedent. Her identity will most likely be made known to the public with the coroner’s findings.

Story First Published: 2012-11-28