Hamilton police say it could be months before they find the body of a “severely” disabled Stoney Creek woman whose niece allegedly kept her death secret so she could collect her disability pension for the past two and a half years.
Det. Sgt. Matt Kavanagh said police believe the 62-year-old woman died in 2009 and her body is in a rural area of the city. He said he can’t rule out foul play until it’s found.
“We feel this will be a long search. There’s quite a few areas to search, so we’re probably talking over the next few months,” Kavanagh said.
“It will involve different types of searches – grid search, dogs and possibly some ground radar,” he said. “We may never find it.”
The woman’s 45-year-old niece, who acted as her caregiver at their lower Stoney Creek home, was arrested on Sept. 27.
She is charged with causing an indignity to a dead body, fraud over $5,000, two counts of forgery, impersonation with intent to gain an advantage and uttering a forged document.
Kavanagh said the accused is being cooperative but can’t remember precisely where she put her dead aunt’s body.
He said he didn’t want to divulge the general area where police will be searching because it might draw onlookers.
Homicide investigators began looking into the case in July after being contacted by a concerned family member who believed the aunt had died and proper authorities hadn’t been notified.
Kavanagh said the length of time it took for the aunt’s death to come to police’s attention is unusual, but also reflects her living conditions.
“She was severely mentally handicapped and physically handicapped, so wasn’t able to get out,” he said. “She had no friends. Just relatives is all she had.”
Police have not released the names of the niece or aunt.
Media spokesperson Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings said the names are being withheld to protect the victim’s identity and because the accused was released on a promise to appear in court on Oct. 26, so the charges have yet to be formally sworn before a judge.
Charlotte Wilkinson, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said she can’t discuss specific cases, but the maximum disability payment for an individual is $1,064 per month.
Income and assets are taken into account in setting the actual rate, she said.
Wilkinson said the ministry ceases payments immediately when notified of a death by police or next of kin and tries to prevent fraud by analyzing computer records for suspicious activity and investigating unusual patterns in client files.
She said 2,900 suspected fraud cases have been referred to police since 2004, resulting in 1,900 convictions. According to the latest caseload figures, nearly 417,000 Ontarians were getting disability benefits as of July.
“These are really isolated cases,” Wilkinson said of frauds, noting the ministry also has a hotline to encourage people to reports suspected cases.