The Mystery of Pia Farrenkopf

In early 2014, the neighbors of Pia Farrenkopf, pictured above, noticed a problem: squirrels. Farrenkopf was an odd neighbor, in the sense that she wasn’t much of one at all. As USA Today reported, Farrenkopf traveled a lot for both business and pleasure, “she didn’t receive mail in her mailbox [ . . . ], and a neighbor mowed the lawn, so there was little to raise suspicions.” And by mid-2013, the neighbors probably stopped thinking about Farrenkopf altogether — the bank foreclosed on her house, and Farrenkopf was nowhere to be found. They probably figured that she had simply abandoned the property — if they thought about it at all.

But that changed in February or early March. Some neighbors noticed the aforementioned squirrels had found a way into Farrenkopf’s home, and, not wanting blight on the block, they called the bank to tell them about the problem. According to Michigan Live, “the bank holding the mortgage sent a contractor on March 5 to patch a hole that neighbors complained squirrels were using to enter the home.”

They found more than squirrels. They found Farrenkopf, sitting in her car — dead. And not recently so. She was, per the police (via Michigan Live), “mummified.”

Most likely, she died five years earlier — and nobody noticed.

In today’s world, that seems impossible — surely, someone would know if you just stopped existing, right? But Farrenkopf’s situation was different, if not unique. The neighbors didn’t notice, as explained above, and this wasn’t the first time she vanished — per the Detroit Free Press, “police showed up at her home in 2005 to check on her. Neighbors had reported they hadn’t seen her in a month and shutoff notices were on the porch.” She didn’t have any co-workers, either, as the Free Press notes: “In May 2008, Farrenkopf resigned from her job in Michigan with Fidelity National Information Services [ . . . ] after 23 years with the company” (likely after an argument with her boss) and at the time of her death, hadn’t found new employment. And her family was similarly in the dark. Her sister died in 2007 and Farrenkopf’s family tried to contact her, but it took multiple tries over many days before she picked up the phone, and per USA Today, that year, “the family called police to do a wellness check and was told there was nothing out of the ordinary found” Farrenkopf just preferred to be left alone, and by 2009, no one really thought much about it.

But, of course, there are other people who would notice if you suddenly vanished: the people to whom you owe money. And Farrenkopf was no different in this case. She had a mortgage and her home, despite not having anyone living in it, still used utilities — some lights were on, surely, and maybe the AC was set on autopilot, or the sprinklers were on timers. Either way, she owed both the bank and utility companies money, and kind of like the IRS, they don’t take silence for an answer. That, though, wasn’t an immediate problem. As the New York Daily News explains, “Farrenkopf had a savings of $87,199.80 by the time she resigned from [the] software company in 2008. She had set up automatic payments for a number of her bills,” including her mortgage and utilities.

That’s a good deal of money but it’s not infinite, and it ran out in late 2013. The bank foreclosed the next January, but even then, Farrenkopf’s demise wasn’t immediately discovered. When they sent an inspector to the house immediately thereafter, he didn’t notice the dead body sitting in the Jeep in the garage. It was a few weeks later — and only because of the squirrels — that the fate of Pia Farrenkopf was discovered.

Authorities investigated the details of her death as best they could, but given the amount of time that had passed and the demised’s extreme self-isolation, there hasn’t been much to go on. To date — and likely forever — we’ll never know what caused her death.

Bonus fact: The delay between Farrenkopf’s death and her discovery is extreme, but not unique. In 2002, Layne Staley, the lead singer of 1980s metal band Alice N’ Chains, died from what was likely a drug overdose — and no one noticed for two weeks. His body was ultimately discovered when his accountants, realizing that Staley hadn’t made a single withdrawal from his bank accounts over that period, got concerned and called the police to check on him, according to Far Out Magazine.

From the Archives: The Oldest Man in Tokyo: It’s similar, but not the same, as the stories above. You’ll see.