LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A coroner has determined that a veteran found dead last month on the living room floor of his home had been decomposing for more than nine months — a period during which neighbors said they saw his wife living in the home and acting as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
Tippecanoe County Coroner Donna Avolt said Tuesday that Gerald Francis Gavan Jr., 88, died more than nine months before his body was discovered May 3 lying near the front door of his home.
A forensic entomologist will testify in court, Avolt said, that Gavan's date of death was at least July 15.
Tyler Imel, who moved in next door to Gavan last August, said he was shocked to hear that the man had been dead the entire time they were neighbors. Even more unnerving, he said, is the fact that Ila Solomon, the woman he knew as Gavan's live-in caretaker, carried on as if everything were normal.
"It's really disturbing," he said, "the fact that we've been living here the whole time and talking to her."
Imel said he even spent time on Gavan's porch with Solomon, never suspecting the man's body was rotting just a few feet away on the other side of the front door.
Imel's housemate, Joe Childs, said Solomon was always friendly and would come and go from the house frequently.
"If I lived with a dead body in my house, I couldn't compose myself the way that she did every day," he said.
Solomon said Tuesday there's a simple explanation for why she gave no indication that Gavan was dead: Because he wasn't.
She refuted the coroner's report altogether.
"I think that there is enough proof and evidence that that's not true," Solomon said.
She claimed Gavan didn't die until April 28, when he likely experienced another small stroke.
Dehumidifiers, rodents and flies accelerated the decomposition of Gavan's body enough in five days for a professional forensic entomologist to think he'd been dead since July, Solomon said.
She explained that the dehumidifiers were present to dry out lumber for Gavan's woodworking projects, the flies came from fertilizer in the house and the rodents were supposed to be fed to Gavan's pet snakes, which have since gone missing.
Avolt said Solomon's story is not supported by her team's findings.
"The entomologist will say and prove that at least July 15, 2013, if not before, was the date of death," she said.
Solomon said a foul odor forced her to sleep in the house she owns next door during the five days she claims Gavan lay dead on the living room floor. She declined to disclose why she didn't report the man's death to authorities, citing instructions from police detectives.
"I would love to answer," she said. "I would love to tell you. I really, really would."
She said everything she's done has been rooted in a deep love for Gavan, whom she married two years ago.
"I love Scooter," Solomon said. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for him."
That's why, she said, she's been trying to get his remains transported to a "body ranch" in Texas, where researchers study vultures feeding on human bodies.
Solomon said Gavan told her he wanted to experience a tradition he heard about in India in which bodies are put on a hillside for birds to eat. In his death, he wanted to get "a bird's-eye view," she said.
Avolt said she was able to identify Gavan definitively by verifying that the screws and metal plate in his ankle match medical records. The plate was implanted, she said, after he broke his ankle.
Avolt said she's waiting on enhanced toxicology results to determine more precisely how Gavan died.
Lafayette police detectives working the investigation couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.