House Nightmare: the Body in the Walls

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I sometimes refer to our current home as “the nightmare house.” Since moving in a year ago, the list of expensive (and downright gross) repairs we’ve had to undertake is the stuff of bad dreams. But that’s really all hyperbole. Singed electrical boxes and floors that reek of dog urine are not my actual nightmare. Know what is? Finding a body in the walls. And if you, like my husband, think that’s an absurd nightmare to fixate on, I bring you this story out of the Houston Chronicle.

In 2015, the bank foreclosed on a home that had fallen into disrepair and within days, its 61-year-old owner, Mary Cerruti was declared missing. Fast forward to March of this year, when a new couple moved into the 1930s home and began their renovations. That’s when they found Mary Cerruti’s eye glasses – and her bones – inside one of the home’s attic walls. Cue the screeching horror movie music! Ree ree ree!

The real kicker is that police searched the home for signs of her and found nothing. Roofers and contractors swarmed the house making repairs and renovations. At first, I was mystified by no one noticing the smell of decomposition. A single dead vermin in our attic made such a stink one summer, I considered moving in with my in-laws. But reports show multiple dead cats were found when the home was cleaned out. The cats would have explained the smell.

But it’s not just the wretched discovery of a body in the walls that makes this story so completely and horribly fascinating. It seems that at the time of her disappearance, Mary Cerruti was doing a bit of rabble rousing. She rather vocally opposed the development of a Trammel Crow-helmed apartment complex in her backyard.

“Literally, this project is going to be in my backyard,” she said. “I’m surrounded. And I just don’t see the sense of this project. It seems like just too many apartments for such a small space.”

In the years that followed, Cerruti faced the trials of a development rising all around her, neighbors said. Her water got cut off. Her car was blocked in the driveway. Construction made getting to her house more difficult – it also made them less likely to pass by her house, where they rarely saw her emerge.

Few Details Emerge in Cerruti’s Death

And then, she just disappeared. She stopped paying the mortgage. In March of 2105, a foreclosure petition was filed. In September, she was declared missing. And roughly 18 months later, some unsuspecting couple found her in the walls of their new home. I would need therapy. Lots of it.

But of course, the real tragedy here is Mary Cerruti. Was her disappearance and death an accident or was something nefarious at play?

Autopsy results confirmed Cerruti’s identity but report cause of death as inconclusive. It’s entirely possible that she fell through a broken board while climbing into the attic. The medical examiner found no signs of trauma on her skeleton, which was fairly well chewed at by rodents. Answers as to the circumstances surrounding her fate remain elusive.

While finding a body in the walls of my home terrifies me to an indescribable degree, what’s really going to keep me up nights is the picture of poor Mary Cerruti, trapped in her attic, alone, injured, and frightened. May God rest your soul, Mary Cerruti.

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Heather Hunter

In addition to a 15-year career in marketing and communications, Heather is an accomplished freelance writer and has contributed to The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column and “The United States of Dating” on National Public Radio. Her blog, This Fish Needs a Bicycle, was syndicated by NBC Universal (iVillage) for four years. As a ghostwriter, her work has appeared in publications such as WIRED and Stadia Magazine

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  1. mmCandy Evans says

    I know, this story moved me, too. I cannot tell you what we used to call our old circa 1939 house on Park Lane, yes, in the Honeypot, because we’d get kicked off Google. Let me just say that one time we discovered that when you flushed the hall toilet it was just going under the house. I know. I needed therapy and also an army of plumbers. But this story! The poor woman! I just cannot imagine how no one found her in the walls though. Very suspicious….I hope someone in Houston does some digging.

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