I admit it. I’m a fan of Storage Wars. But since watching that show falls into the category of “entertainment” rather than “research” I never paid too much attention to the construction of the storage units themselves until I had occasion to wonder if I could use one for a scene in the current work in progress. What a good place to look for a clue, I thought. Perhaps a photo, or a letter someone wrote and forgot about, hidden away in one cardboard box among many.
On television, the buyers on Storage Wars and its clones don’t get to go into the lockers until they’ve won them at auction. A person renting one, of course, can go in and out as often as he or she likes, leaving things off and taking other things out. I know. I know. I should just go visit a facility, but it’s Sunday, it’s hot out, and I have an iPad on my lap. I figured I’d try finding answers online first.
I wondered if there were lights in storage lockers. What if someone wanted to get something out at night? I assumed there wouldn’t be windows, since the storage units are supposed to be secure, but do some units have access other than by way of one of those big overhead doors? If it would work, I’d like to have my characters enter through a smaller, regular door beside the big one and find a light switch just inside. Alas, a little browsing among the “images” on Google was enough to show me that what I was looking for isn’t likely to exist. There are tons of photos of storage units and storage facilities online, and webpages galore. They all look pretty much the same, differing only in size, rental fee, and level of security.
You know how doing research on the Internet is. One thing leads to another. As a crime writer, I was curious to see if there had been any further developments in a 2011 case I’d heard about, the discovery, here in Maine, of human remains in an unplugged freezer unit inside a storage locker. It’s quite a story. The victim disappeared in 1983. Her on-and-off boyfriend was questioned but never arrested. In 1992 he rented a 10X10 storage unit. Nineteen years later, after he died, his family was cleaning out the unit, which was filled “front to back and top to bottom” with boxes full of household items, and made their gruesome discovery. The freezer was removed by the state police with the remains still inside. Later, the “body parts” were then sent to Pennsylvania for DNA testing and, to no one’s surprise, turned out to be what was left of the girlfriend. Charming!
If you’re thinking “What a great place to hide the body!” then wait. There’s more.
I continued to scroll through Google entries, looking for any other updates on the story. Lo and behold, other storage unit finds started to pop up. There were some fairly fresh remains that started to smell and alerted the owner of the storage facility. And the case of the homeless mother and her two little boys who lived in a New Jersey storage locker for over five months. No dead bodies there, thank goodness. And then there was the woman who was stored, in her coffin, in a Florida storage unit in 1995. The woman’s daughter, on her deathbed in 2008, confessed to her own daughter that Grandma hadn’t ever been buried. Authorities were said to be checking to make sure the mother wasn’t also stored somewhere.
The saddest tale, although wonderfully evocative for those intrigued by unsolved mysteries, is that of a discovery in 2007 in a storage unit in Del Ray Beach, Florida. The locker was rented by a retired couple in 1996. After they died, their heirs were notified that the rent was overdue and the contents would be sold at auction. They traveled to Florida to take a look and found it full of furniture and housewares. Inside a larger suitcase was a small suitcase and inside the small suitcase, wrapped in newspapers from 1959, were the partially mummified remains of a baby boy!
I stopped doing “research” at that point. After all, I write humorous cozies. But there does seem to be one unanswered question that both the 2007 and the 2011 cases have in common: where was the body between the apparent date of death and the date, years later, when that storage locker was rented?