BRISTOL, Va. — The discovery of the decomposing body of a 78-year-old woman believed to be Rosemary Outland — covered in dozens of blankets and surrounded by more than 60 air fresheners — led police to arrest her daughter in Bristol.
Jo-Whitney Outland, 55, was charged with felony concealment of a body after the Bristol Virginia Police Department began investigating Monday evening.
Sgt. Steve Crawford said Outland’s relatives, concerned that they hadn’t heard or seen their aunt, Rosemary Outland, went to her home on Pine Street on Monday. Jo-Whitney Outland, who lived with her mother, wasn’t home, Crawford said.
The relatives decided to enter the home through a window.
“They found what they believed was their deceased aunt inside the home,” Crawford said. “They couldn’t tell for sure.”
Police were called to the scene to investigate.
“I pulled back the blankets, and I see the body of an elderly female under these blankets,” Crawford said on Wednesday. “There were all of these air fresheners around.”
Once he determined a body was present, resting in a chair in the living room, Crawford said he obtained a search warrant to continue investigating.
“I went back in, took off the blankets,” said Crawford, who wore a protective suit at the time. “There were 54 blankets and articles of clothing. And there were air fresheners on top of it and around it. I counted 66 different air fresheners.”
Crawford said the air fresheners included carpet cleaning powder, which whipped into the air when he moved the blankets, car air fresheners and other items.
The detective said he also found a nearby letter. The letter, written by Jo-Whitney Outland, said the woman died on Dec. 29 and mentioned various things about the family, Crawford said.
No signs of foul play were present, and Crawford said he suspects the woman died of natural causes. There were significant signs of decomposition, mummification and decay, and transport from the home required assistance from the city’s Fire Department, he added.
Positive identification and cause of death are still being determined by the medical examiner’s office in Roanoke, Crawford said.
“It looked like natural causes,” Crawford said. “She left her there and didn’t report it to anybody.”
The detective took Outland into custody on Tuesday. Although she is believed to have been staying at the home since her mother died, she was located at a relative’s home.
Over the 44 days that the body was inside, Crawford said it appeared Outland kept family members from entering the home.
Crawford interviewed Outland and charged her with the class 6 felony.
Authorities also found two cats, which were kept in a crate, and a dog, which was found in the kitchen. Crawford said the pets appeared to have been well- fed, but they were retrieved by animal control.
Crawford said he still doesn’t know why the woman did not report her mother’s death.
“It’s very bizarre,” Crawford said. “I have no clear idea. I don’t know what her future plans was.”
The longtime Bristol detective said he wasn’t aware of any similar cases in the city.
“All she had to do was pick up the phone and call an ambulance, and it would have been over,” Crawford said.
In Virginia, a class 6 felony includes a sentence of not less than one year but not more than five years, as well as a fine of no more than $2,500, according to state code.
Outland has no previous criminal record, said Crawford, who added that she has since been released from jail.
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