JENNINGS • Gladys Jean Bergmeier was known by her neighbors to be a pack rat who filled her house with plants and plastic bags stuffed with a mix of important papers and trash. Outdated newspapers and magazines were piled throughout her house in the 9200 block of Catalina Drive.
Nearly three weeks after the 75-year-old was found dead on Feb. 7, a relative found the unthinkable among the rubbish: the mummified remains of an elderly woman, presumably Bergmeier's long-unseen mother, Gladys Stansbury.
Police and Gwen Haugen, a forensic investigator with the St. Louis County medical examiner's office, said it is unknown how long the remains had been in the home.
Neighbors said they didn't even know Bergmeier's mother had been living with her.
"It's just shocking," said Gussie Harrison, who lives across the street from the home where Bergmeier lived for more than 35 years and took her neighbor in for several months after a fire at Bergmeier's home years ago.
Harrison said she became concerned about Bergmeier during Super Bowl weekend because her neighbor normally kept a light on in her home, but there had not been one on the night of Feb. 6.
The next day, she said she called, letting the phone ring 17 times. She waited to make another call again until after "The Young and the Restless," which Bergmeier watched religiously. After still not making contact, she called one of Bergmeier's relatives.
Jennings police were summoned, and they found Bergmeier dead in her home, dressed in a nightgown, in her bed.
"She was a very nice, sweet little lady," Harrison said. "Didn't seem like she could hurt a fly."
Ken Maue, who lived next door to Bergmeier, described her as a pleasant woman who had become more of a loner after her husband died in 1989.
"If she was outside, she'd say hi," he said. "Other than that, she sort of kept to herself."
Maue, who was raised on the block and moved back after getting married, recalled mowing the lawn at Bergmeier's corner residence, often getting paid in refreshments.
After Bergmeier's husband died, not too many people were seen at the home, he said.
Neither he nor Harrison could recall seeing Stansbury at the home over the last 20 years.
Haugen said Stansbury, who was born in 1913, moved into the home with Bergmeier after the 1993 floods. Other relatives had not had any contact with Stansbury after that.
On Feb. 26, a relative helping clean out Bergmeier's home came across the remains, wrapped in plastic and a multicolored curtain. The remains were partially dressed in a pajama top and camisole, and had a sock on the right foot. The remains had no broken bones or signs of trauma.
"It appears (Bergmeier) couldn't let go (of her mother)," Haugen said. "This woman always had excuses as to where (Stansbury) might be. As time went on, people just stopped asking."
The body presumed to be that of Stansbury is now on a gurney at the St. Louis County medical examiner's office in Berkeley. Investigators are looking for information that might help pinpoint the time she died.
Inside the plastic wrappings, investigators found an orange juice bottle with a 2003 expiration date.
It's not clear whether Stansbury died around that time or whether the bottle somehow slipped in between the plastic wrappings, given the condition of the home.
"If anybody's seen her more recently," Haugen said, "then we could use that information."