The mysterious discovery of a mummified body in the walls of a historic convention center in Oakland, California, has prompted an urgent search for answers, as authorities seek to untangle the person’s identity and how they came to be entombed within the building’s walls.
Construction workers discovered the body on Wednesday afternoon during renovations of Henry J Kaiser Convention Center, a more-than-century old building near the city’s downtown. Little is known about the person, whom authorities said appears to be a man, or how he was preserved within the wall of the convention center, which has long been vacant. Officials estimate he had been there for between three and five years based on the state of decay.
The victim’s body was found behind drywall and between two concrete pillars in the top-tier of the auditorium in a cavity with only a 15-inch opening, according to the Oakland police department. “Markings and biological evidence at the top of the opening indicate the victim may have been deceased near the top and over-time his body slowly decayed and slipped toward the bottom of the cavity space,” said Lt. Frederick Shavies of the Oakland police department in an official update on Thursday.
An investigation and identification of the victim is still ongoing but officials determined the person was an adult male based on bone structure and anatomy. The coroner will rely on dental records, and possibly preserved fingerprints to learn who the person is, but other identifiers, including age or race, could not be immediately perceived.
Shavies said that further clarification for cause of death is pending an autopsy but authorities do not at this time believe this was a homicide. “No obvious or unnatural trauma was found indicating foul play, nor were the victims hands, feet, or other body parts bound,” Shavies said, noting that the skeletal remains carried no visual signs of harm.
The Henry J Kaiser Convention Center is an Oakland-designated historical landmark that opened in 1914. The auditorium was once a renowned performance space that had hosted a range of artists and speakers, including Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley and the Grateful Dead.
It’s sat empty in recent years, after city leaders determined it was too expensive to maintain. But in 2015, Oakland’s city council approved a plan, to reinstate the structure as a performing arts venue and commercial space. Orton Development Ltd, the company handling the renovation, declined to comment on the discovery.
Officials who initially said that this was a homicide investigation reported on Thursday that it might instead have been an unfortunate mishap. “Based on the positionality the victim’s body was found in,” said Shavies, “this tragic death is most likely an accidental death caused by positional asphyxiation due to compression from the small space.”