Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Man who lay dead for weeks one of many to die alone

Reclusive man who lay dead for a long time in his council apartment is one of many elderly to die alone

Grey Power social services spokeswoman Violet McCowatt urges people to keep a friendly eye on folk living alone in their neighbourhoods. Photo / Thinkstock
Grey Power social services spokeswoman Violet McCowatt urges people to keep a friendly eye on folk living alone in their neighbourhoods. Photo / Thinkstock

John Burrows Baird, 74, lived alone and, his neighbours said, kept to himself.

It was rare that the quietly spoken, well-dressed pensioner ventured out, so nobody in his south Dunedin neighbourhood asked any questions when they did not see him for a while.

His son lived at the other end of the country in Auckland.

It was only when his pharmacist became concerned that Baird had not been in to pick up his medication since January, or visited his doctor, that anyone began asking questions.

The pharmacist called the police, and on Friday officers found Baird dead in his home. At first they thought he had been dead for weeks. They now say he may have been dead for two months.

"Like the rest of the country, Dunedin has been through something of a heatwave," said Senior Sergeant Bruce Ross.

"So if he died in January you can imagine what the condition of the body was."

It is not the first time in the past few years that a pensioner has lain dead in their home for a long time: the body of Michael Clarke, 88, lay in his Wellington council flat for more than a year without anyone knowing, until it was found by chance by council workers preparing to demolish his apartment block.

Grey Power social services spokeswoman Violet McCowatt said she knew of many such cases - and pleaded with people to keep a friendly eye on folk living alone in their neighbourhoods.

"Years ago people used to talk to their neighbours and have street parties and mingle, but nowadays you don't do it so much because you don't want people to think you're being nosy," she said.

"Just keep in touch. If you see that the blinds aren't up for a few days go and knock on the door."

Police said the cause of Baird's death would not be known until a post-mortem examination, which is to be carried out tomorrow.

His next of kin had been notified, though yesterday his son in Auckland did not wish to talk about his father's death.

One neighbour, who did not wish to be identified, said she was shocked and saddened to hear his body had been undiscovered for so long.

Baird had lived alone in the house for many years. His garden was overgrown and unkempt, but when he did leave the house he was always well-dressed and well-spoken.

She said she could count the number of times she had seen him on one hand.

Most of his immediate neighbours had moved out recently and the new occupants probably didn't know anyone was living there.

"If you saw the state of the house you'd understand why."

- Herald on Sunday

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