EAST VANDERGRIFT, Pa. —A Westmoreland County man was arrested Tuesday night after police found his father's body in a 55-gallon plastic barrel in his house earlier in the day, but he is not suspected of murder.
An autopsy on Wednesday determined that 59-year-old David F. Thomas died of natural causes, and foul play is not suspected, according to the coroner's office.
Vandergrift police were responding to a neighbor's request for a well-being check on Thomas at the man's home on Kennedy Avenue. Police Chief Joseph Caporali said Thomas' son, 32-year-old David J. Thomas, greeted an officer at the door and let him inside.
According to the criminal complaint, officers smelled a strong odor in the home. The complaint also stated that the younger Thomas told police his father was ill and in the VA Hospital. He later changed his story and told police his father was out of town with a friend.
The son "led the officer around to the residence, subsequently leading him to the basement area, where there was a blue 55-gallon drum," Caporali said. "After a short conversation with the officer, Mr. Thomas did open up the drum which contained the body of his father, David F. Thomas."
The criminal complaint revealed that during questioning, Thomas told police he was caring for his ill father and one day he found his father deceased. He allegedly put his father's body in a blanket and took it to the basement. He also told police he used his father's bank card to purchase a blue barrel. Once it was delivered, he put his father's body inside.
Thomas also told police during questioning that he didn't report his father's death because he wanted his father's checks to continue coming in. He allegedly admitted to using his father's money to pay bills and buy drugs.
The younger Thomas spent the day at the Vandergrift police station being questioned by district attorney's detectives. He was eventually taken to the county prison on charges of abuse of a corpse, identity theft and access device fraud, and his bond was set at $55,000 cash.
The neighbor who contacted police to check on the elder Thomas said she hadn't seen him for two to three weeks and the son had said his father was in a VA hospital. Police said they checked with the hospital and learned that Thomas was not a patient, then found his body in the house.
"I was shocked. I could not believe that something would happen in this small town like this," said Mary Anuszek, a former mayor of East Vandergrift. "Never did I ever hear of anything like this, as many years (as) I've been here."
Anuszek said many of her neighbors feel the same. "They're just shocked," she said. "Everybody that passes says they just can't believe it, that this would happen in our town."
"Kind of gave me the creeps," said Teddy Majercik. "It doesn't scare me but it gave me the creeps. I'm not afraid to live down here or anywhere."
"You never think something like that's going to happen in a small town like this, but it does everywhere, I think," said another neighbor, Cindy Gourley.
The elder Thomas had no enemies or conflicts with anyone, neighbor John Guercio said. "No, nothing. He was very quiet. He stayed to himself. And when he was feeling good, he went to church," he said.
"It's sad. There's something going on in the world today with some people that it's really sad," Majercik said. "Who knows what was going through their minds?"
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