A 72-year-old woman whose body was found by D.C. police in their second search of her apartment did not die from any obvious trauma, Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan L. Arden said yesterday.
The finding, based on an autopsy conducted yesterday, means officials will have to wait for further tests before they can determine what caused the death of Elizabeth Gainer. Arden declined to say exactly when Gainer is believed to have died.
The medical examiner's work is especially critical in the case because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the discovery of her body. With a day elapsing between the two visits by police officers, the time of death is an important factor regardless of whether she died of natural causes or as a result of an assault.
Gaither, who was hobbled by arthritis, diabetes and a hip replacement, rarely ventured from her one-bedroom apartment in the 1400 block of Girard Street NW, according to those who knew her.
A neighbor said she spoke to Gaither on Tuesday. But after Gaither's telephone was busy throughout the next day, the neighbor and Gaither's sister called police to check on her that evening.
A police officer from the 3rd District, accompanied by the manager of the building, searched the apartment but did not find Gaither, said Cmdr. Cheryl Pendergast of the 3rd District.
The next day, after another phone call, officers returned to the apartment and saw Gaither's foot protruding from under the bed, Pendergast said. Police have said that the lighting in Gaither's apartment was very dim and that it was only after officers opened the blinds and let daylight in that they discovered the body.
Gaither's sister, Frances Pressley of Silver Spring, said that Gaither's health problems made it difficult to bend over, making it unlikely that she could have crawled under the bed.
Pendergast said her staff would be investigating the first officer who checked on Gaither.
She said they would ask the officer to "tell [us] what you did, so we can tell you what you didn't do."