Footsteps in the snow lead to the Wells, Maine, home of Lucie McNulty, whose body was found inside after being dead for what was determined for more than two years. Credit: Deb Cram | York County Coast Star

WELLS, Maine — Neighbors hadn’t seen Lucie McNulty since 2013.

She had little interaction even before then with those living in the rural neighborhood off Route 109. A former co-worker told police she had moved to Wells in 2000 because “she wanted to be alone.”

Some neighbors thought McNulty might have returned to New York where she had worked as a music teacher.

When neighbors saw police at McNulty’s Atkins Road home last Friday, they were shocked to learn the reclusive woman had been dead in her home for at least 2½ years.

This after several well-being checks by police over the years showed nothing out of the ordinary, leading police to never force entry into McNulty’s home until last Friday. They found her body in her bedroom.

When McNulty hadn’t been seen in the neighborhood since 2013, neighbor Toni Jones said she figured McNulty had gone back to Buffalo or elsewhere. She had interacted with McNulty a few times years ago when she first moved to the neighborhood.

“I did drop her mail off once because it was delivered to me by mistake, but that’s about it,” Jones said.

Not long after she moved to Atkins Lane, McNulty withdrew from those around her. Jones said she wouldn’t answer phone calls, and refused to interact with neighbors when they needed to meet about plowing and maintaining the private road. Jones said McNulty once answered the phone when another neighbor called and pretended to be an answering machine so she wouldn’t have to talk with them.

“She was set in her ways. We interacted with her as much as she allowed,” Jones said.

Cassie Durham moved into the house next door a year ago with her 6-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son. Durham said her landlord told her McNulty’s house was abandoned. She said Wells police knocked on her door last Thursday to ask her a few questions and they told her it was because the person next door hadn’t paid their taxes.

“Then the next day the cops showed up and that’s when I learned what was going on, and that they found a body,” Durham said.

Durham said she had never seen anyone coming or going from McNulty’s house and the driveway was never plowed. She assumed the house was empty, but didn’t let her daughter explore next door when playing outside.

“It’s really sad to think she’s been dead in there since before I moved in,” Durham said.

Outward appearances

The outdoor decor at the small white ranch belies the reclusive nature reported by McNulty’s neighbors. A plywood faced shed in the snow-covered yard has an array of colorful, weathered flip flops tacked to the doors. The garage is decorated with anchors and wooden dory planters with pink silk geraniums. A tattered garden flag and an assortment of planters line one side of the driveway. A gas grill sits covered on the small back deck.

A silver Chevy Lumina in the yard is covered in snow, with no license plates and four flat tires. Jones said she used to see McNulty drive to the end of the road to get her mail. Neighbors told police they would see McNulty drive to pick up boxes from her mailbox. They think that’s how she ordered food and other necessities.

Jones said McNulty had bright red hair and was a bit on the heavy side, but didn’t appear unhealthy when she last saw her.

Every window in the home is covered with thick, heavy drapes, blocking out all light and any view of the outdoors. Mold can be seen on the back of the drapes.

‘Hindsight is 20/20’

Police first went to check on McNulty in 2013 after she had returned home from the hospital for a minor problem, police Lt. Congdon said. Before she returned home “was the last anyone had heard or seen of her,” he said.

In 2014, police returned to McNulty’s home after a friend in New York said the Christmas card he sent to McNulty was returned and he hadn’t heard from her in some time.

Congdon said police conducted two or three well-being checks at McNulty’s home over the years. “There was nothing really out of the ordinary or nothing giving us reason to believe there was someone in danger,” he said, adding McNulty could have been living elsewhere, such as a nursing home.

Asked if police pursued that angle, Congdon said, “Most people don’t want law enforcement intervening in their life without justifiable cause. If there was any indication that she was outgoing or friendly, but she was a recluse and she wanted it to remain that way.”

Police last week learned McNulty’s taxes were in such arrears that foreclosure was imminent. Congdon said he reached out to the Social Security office to see if she was still receiving or cashing her Social Security checks, and while waiting for a reply, police decided “we needed to force our way into the house and get to the bottom of this.”

The mobile home was locked, the curtains were closed and the power was still on, Congdon said.

Police found nothing suspicious about McNulty’s death. The state medical examiner was called in to determine the cause of death, which was ruled a result of ischemic cardiovascular disease. McNulty would have been 69 years old if she were still alive.

Congdon said McNulty’s remains were taken to Bibber Memorial Chapel and that while police do not know of any friends or family members they contacted an attorney who represented McNulty in Buffalo, New York, in 2002.

The situation is a sad one, Congdon said, noting that “hindsight is 20-20.”

“Police are used to working with probable cause and reasonable doubt, making sure that all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed so we don’t get sued and infringe on someone’s constitutional rights and we have to be very cognizant of that,” he said.

He talked of the Wells Police Department’s “Good Morning” program, implemented about four years ago to help establish contact between police and seniors or individuals with disabilities. Those in the program fill out a form and can give police a key and permission to enter their home. They can call in to police dispatch between 7 and 10 a.m. each morning to check in. If the participant doesn’t call, police know to check on them.

“It gives us an opportunity to know something about them,” said Congdon, but he wondered if McNulty would have signed up for the program, given her reclusive nature.

“I just can’t fathom that anyone can be so alone in life that they can be lying dead in their home for over two years and nobody knew,” said Jones, McNulty’s neighbor. “It’s very upsetting.”