All Sections

Home | Public Safety

Neighbors say Salem home where decomposing body was found was clean, quiet

Union Leader Correspondent

August 17. 2018 2:16PM
The residence at 79 Brookdale Road in Salem was cleared by forensic investigators Thursday and a hole created to remove resident Gary Cotter was boarded up. 

SALEM — An autopsy is being performed on the body of an elderly woman who authorities say had been dead for some time in the 79 Brookdale Road home neighbors say she shared with her son.

The pair was identified by neighbors as Florence and Gary Cotter; he was removed from the house Wednesday afternoon through a hole first responders cut under a window.

Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Hinckley, who is heading the investigation, said Thursday the man — police have not identified either of the two found in the house — was taken to a hospital.

Authorities have made no arrests in what they are investigating as an untimely death.

Police found the house in “deplorable” conditions, according to Capt. Joel Dolan. He said officers encountered trash built up and collected throughout the living areas of the home.

“It does not appear as if anything has been removed in years,” Dolan said Thursday.

Salem police were called to the house Wednesday to perform a welfare check requested by a pizza delivery person employed by Romano’s Pizzeria in Salem. The pizzeria owner declined to comment Thursday, but police logs state the driver found the male resident looking “yellow” with blood on him and a “strong odor.”

The man had asked the driver to deliver the pizza through a window. The police report stated that Romano’s had been delivering food to the house for some time.

Neighbors said Wednesday it had been more than a year since anyone saw Florence Cotter, who is in her 80s.

Salem police logs from May 20, 2017, say that a person came to the police station to request a check on the well-being of an elderly resident at 79 Brookdale. An officer responded and referred the matter to “elder services.”

Dolan said the officer did make contact with an elderly woman at the home at that time.

Former neighbor Lorraine “Laurie” Whitesell of Roanoke, Va., remembers Florence Cotter fondly.

“To have this happen to a daughter of Salem, it’s not right,” said Whitesell, who once lived at 102 Brookdale Road.

Wednesday evening, an investigator examined the window through which Gary Cotter received the pizza delivery that led to authorities being alerted to the situation inside the house.

Whitesell said the family suffered a tragedy in the 1960s when their daughter, Jane, died at the age of 4 or 5. “After Janey died, it was downhill,” Whitesell said. “(Florence) used to sit at the window and just stare out ... It was heartbreaking.”

Whitesell’s sons, Karl Stober, 62, and Kristopher Stober, 60, say they grew up in the neighborhood, living there for 19 years.

Karl Stober said the Cotter children did not join the neighborhood kids who played along Brookdale Road. 

“They were very quiet kids. They stayed home a lot,” said Karl Stober, who now lives in Palm Springs, Calif.

Florence was cordial and would often say “hi” to the neighborhood kids, he said. He never saw the father, Frank.

Town property records list Francis and Florence Cotter as the home’s owners; the house was purchased in 1961.

On Wednesday evening, neighbor Joe Bolis, 80, said he has been delivering groceries through the window for Gary Cotter for at least a year. He said Gary had an infection on his legs.

“He’s been sick for a while,” Bolis said.

The hole in the house has been boarded up. Forensic investigators collected evidence throughout the night. The house was still cordoned off by police tape on Thursday.

Public Safety Human Interest General News North Salem Salem

More Headlines