A forensic examination has yielded an answer to the question of whose remains were buried under the rubble of an Ahwatukee house that caught on fire two years ago.
The Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office identified the remains as those of Gary Lee Duffield, 59, who was reported missing by a neighbor days after the fire March 19, 2017, in the 13600 block of South 38th Way.
Duffield’s skeletal remains were found by a cleaning crew April 4. The crew was hired by the house’s new owner to prepare the building for a rebuild project.
It appears that Duffield was buried when the fire caused the houses’ roof to cave in, leaving a gaping hole.
“I’m pretty convinced he’s been there for quite some time,’’ said Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a Phoenix police spokesman.
Thompson said police still consider Duffield’s death as the subject of a homicide investigation. From a procedural standpoint, this allows police to look at all possible causes and facts that might explain what happened.
A Phoenix Fire Department spokesman declined comment, saying the fire scene is under investigation by police.
A neighbor who spoke with a television reporter said that Duffield had lived in the house previously with his mother, who died a year or so before the fire.
Media reports in 2017 quoted firefighters as saying they were investigating the fire as a possible arson but determined there was insufficient evidence to find the cause.
The house has been an eyesore in the neighborhood since the fire, but Mountain Park Ranch Executive Director Jim Welch said that’s hardly unusual.
He said many times insurance companies can tie up a home’s restoration for years, though he was unaware of the particular circumstances surrounding the home where the body was found because it’s located in a sub-HOA.