The Forgotten Neighbor on Florida Avenue

Alfred Bank Michaux says he swept the steps of Edmund A. Wilson's home and took out the Avon salesman's trash.
Alfred Bank Michaux says he swept the steps of Edmund A. Wilson's home and took out the Avon salesman's trash. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 16, 2005

The message scrolled across Detective Carlos Hilliard's pager toward the end of another long day: skeleton found in a bathtub in a Northwest Washington rowhouse.

After 22 years on the police force, Hilliard was used to such calls; usually the remains turn out to be those of a dog or a cat or some other animal.

Not this time.

Hilliard drove to the rowhouse, where officers were interviewing neighbors and the man who had found the bones, an investor whose group bought the property at auction in a tax sale.

The lights did not work, so it was hard to see, Hilliard said, but he could make out disarray, mildew, spiderwebs, peeling paint, broken furniture and heaps of newspapers and boxes. Sheets of classical music were scattered around a baby grand piano on the main floor.

Reaching the second floor, Hilliard went into the bathroom. The skeleton lay on its back in the tub. Clothing hung from a hanger on the shower rod.

In the bedroom, Hilliard found a wallet, and inside was a CVS receipt for a 99-cent can of shaving cream. It was dated March 18, 2000. There was also a driver's license with a photograph of an elderly man whose address matched the house's: 513 Florida Ave. NW. Hilliard had his first clue.

A Dapper Figure

Edmund A. Wilson traveled across the District in his long career as an Avon salesman, dapper in tie and jacket as he delivered eyeliner and perfume. Tall and thin, he worked until he was at least 80 and slightly stooped. He seemed to enjoy talking with colleagues but spoke little about himself.

Then, sometime in the late 1990s, Wilson stopped showing up. Neighbors no longer saw him lugging groceries home to the Florida Avenue rowhouse where he had grown up and which he had owned for 40 years. One neighbor assumed that he had moved to a nursing home.

Wilson last paid his property taxes in 1999. The next year, the electricity was turned off for nonpayment. In 2002, the District auctioned his house; the sale became final this May, six months before the new owners surveyed the property for the first time and discovered the skeleton.

Unclothed and dried up, the remains appeared to be those of a man in his seventies or eighties. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of death and identify the skeleton, but they say it may have been Wilson's. "This guy lay down to take a bath and died," said Hilliard, a member of the special victims unit. "And not having anyone to check on him, that's where he remained."

The corpse, investigators say, may have been in the tub for as long as five years.

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