PARMA HEIGHTS, Ohio — In early March, Parma Heights police found the body of a 70-year-old man, a prolific hoarder, who had suffocated under the weight of his own belongings.
In the mountains of books, paper, and musical instruments, detectives searched for anything to explain how Robert Ellzey spent his final days.
What detectives didn’t know was that his death would serve as a macabre preamble to a case that proved to be far more bizarre.
The home is conspicuously unkempt and overgrown.
The trees have begun to reclaim the space. The siding and fascia boards have succumbed to the elements, decaying and rotting, splitting and sagging.
The front lawn has given way to a thicket that would give a machete a run for its money.
Blanketed in dust and grime, the home in the 9700 block of Manorford Drive stands out. It is an odd juxtaposition with how notoriously reclusive the home’s former occupants were.
“In early March, it was brought to our attention by some of the neighbors over on Manorford that they hadn’t seen Robert Ellzey in a few days,” said Parma Heights Police Det. Adam Sloan. “Our patrol officers went over there, and they did locate Mr. Ellzey passed away in his house.”
Neighbors said that snowstorms and bitter cold made the reclusive Robert Ellzey even more shut-in. Robert didn’t have a car, nor did he have a job. The family didn’t come over for Thanksgiving. Friends didn’t come over on football Sundays.
If the world had suddenly stopped, Robert would have likely been oblivious to it.
Robert’s neighbor had the rare chance of seeing him outside the confines of his house, which did not have working utilities.
He was odd, neighbors said but appeared harmless. When the mail started piling up, neighbors suspected something was wrong.
On March 2, Parma Heights police officers conducted a welfare check after neighbors called the police.
Parma Heights officers do not have body camera systems, and dashboard-mounted cameras are activated only when lights and sirens are turned on.
The responding officers eventually found Robert’s lifeless body surrounded by and crushed under his own stuff, the very belongings that he couldn’t bear to part with.
A long list of city and county officials responded to the home, including the health department, fire department, and the city building department. It didn’t take long for them to determine the severe hoarding conditions inside posed a hazard.
Neighbors said it took more than two weeks for professional cleaning crews to rid the home of its contents. Meanwhile, detectives and the medical examiner worked to determine Robert’s cause of death.
“It was positional asphyxia, which meant that some of the stuff in his house had actually trapped him there,” Det. Sloan said. “After speaking with some of the neighbors, there were some grumblings about his mother, Lois.”
Born in November 1924, Lois Ellzey would have been 97 years old this year, according to public records. Beyond owning the home that her son, Robert, was found dead in, Lois’ life on paper is devoid of much detail.
A civil lawsuit in the late 1980s suggests that city officials had taken her to court over the hoarding conditions at her Manorford Drive home. No speeding tickets. No death certificate.
No missing person report. On paper, she wasn’t dead, but she hardly seemed alive either.
And, yet, there was still a very simple but vexing question: where was she?
“Some of the neighbors mentioned that Lois may have passed away almost 10 years ago or so. We didn’t have any concrete evidence on that. No documents or anything to point to a specific date, time or year,” Det. Sloan said. “There was no missing persons report filed within Parma Heights. Even when we started looking into her, when we ran Lois’ information, there was nothing that popped up in our databases that showed her as a missing person. To our knowledge, she was never reported missing in any of our local agencies. [If she were reported missing], out of state [police reports] would have shown up as well.”
Det. Sloan and other investigators searched far and wide for any clue — any minute piece of information — that might lead them closer to Lois’ whereabouts. It wasn’t until Memorial Day weekend that they learned that Lois was just a few miles away.
On Monday, May 30, Brook Park police officers were dispatched to a self-storage facility on West 130th Street about the apparent discovery of a body that had been found in one of the storage units.
Robert Ellzey had rented the particular storage unit that held the gruesome secret closely, Sloan said. There was a box in the dark corner — hardly unusual for a forfeited storage unit.
Inside the box, however, was something that would shake even the most grizzled and hardened officer.
Inside the box were the skeletal remains of a woman later identified as Lois Ellzey.
“We were told that she may have passed away in 2012. How long she’s been in the unit, we’re not sure,” Det. Sloan said. “This is being investigated by the Brook Park Police Department, and we are assisting with the investigation, which is still ongoing.”
Exactly when, where, and how Lois died remains a mystery; the medical examiner has not determined the cause or manner of death. However, Det. Sloan said the coroner’s estimate that she died a decade ago appears to corroborate what neighbors had previously told them.
The discovery of Lois’ body in the storage unit has led investigators down a path of even more questions, especially regarding Lois’ retirement benefits, which continued to arrive at the house on Manorford.
“If mom passed away, she’s not listed as deceased. Why is Social Security still coming in? Why is she still getting retirement checks? That’s obviously what led us to where we’re at today,” Det. Sloan said. “It’s kind of hard because Robert is not around anymore as well. It appears that the Social Security and the retirement funds were still coming at the time we found Robert.”
Det. Sloan said much of the ongoing investigation has centered around Robert, but detectives have not ruled anything or anyone out. They know that it may not be possible to cross off every question; Robert may have taken those answers to his grave.
Additionally, Det. Sloan said Robert and Lois appeared to only have each other. No immediate family members have been identified or located.
Perhaps it should be expected, considering the solitude in which Robert and Lois lived.
“This investigation is going to continue to go on until we can unfold some information,” Sloan said. “Just a crazy turn of events.”