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Corpse found in closet of Charles Town home identified as mother of woman who died there in April

August 01, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- DNA testing of a bone sample from a decomposed body found in April in a closet in a Tuscawilla Hills home led authorities to identify the body as that of a woman who lived in the house with her daughter, police said Thursday.

Eva Bell probably had been dead between eight months and a year and a half, said Sgt. Shannon Sell of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. Sell estimated that Bell was 96 or 97 years old when she died.

Bell's body was found stuffed in garbage bags and blankets and placed in a closet.

Bell was the mother of Beatrice Magaha, who had lived in the house at 46 Newington Court for about 15 years, police and a neighbor said.

Magaha, who was in her early 60s, died April 2. When Magaha's daughter and her husband went in the house following Magaha's death, Bell was found, Sell said.

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After Bell died, Social Security checks belonging to Bell continued to go into a joint bank account belonging to the two women, Sell said. That would constitute fraud, but there is nothing police can do about the matter since Magaha is dead, he said.

The checks were $900 apiece, Sell said.

Sell said he did not know how long the money had been going into the account or what the balance of the account was when Magaha died.

Relatives of the two women periodically would ask Magaha about the whereabouts of Bell, but Magaha did not give conclusive answers, Sell said.

"She always said mom was somewhere else," Sell said. "It seems kind of weird."

Magaha also denied relatives access to her house, Sell said.

Bell's body first was wrapped in a sheet, then in garbage bags and placed in a yellow blanket, and then into a blue blanket, Sell said. The bundle was put into a sleeping bag and a clear tarp was put over the body, he said.

A neighbor who lived next door previously said she never noticed any odors coming from the house.

Sell said the odor was fairly unnoticeable from the inside foyer of the home. But then walking toward the dining room, the smell "pretty much hit you square in the face," he said.

An autopsy was performed at the state Medical Examiner's Office in Charleston, W.Va., Sell said. Although authorities were unable to make a positive identification of the body through the autopsy, it concluded there was no foul play in Bell's death, he said.

To identify the body, a forensic scientist from Marshall University examined a bone sample taken from Bell's body, Sell said. To make the identification, the forensic scientist compared DNA from the bone sample with DNA from Magaha, Sell said.

Sell said he only could speculate on why relatives did not say anything about Bell's disappearance.

Sell said he will not do any more investigation on whether anyone might have accepted Social Security money.

Neighbors previously described Magaha as someone who often was seen outside working in the yard, but kept to herself.

Fay Coakley, who lives behind the duplex where the two women lived, said she tried to be friendly with Magaha, but it seemed Magaha did not want to be bothered.

Coakley said she would try to wave to Magaha while Magaha was mowing her yard, but Magaha would "keep her nose on the grass."

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