Phoenix police are trying to solve the mystery of what happened to a 59-year-old man who was reported missing by a neighbor days after his house burned in Ahwatukee in 2017.
The plot thickened considerably last week when a cleaning crew prepared the house in the 13600 block of S. 38th Way in Mountain Park Ranch for a rebuild project.
They unearthed some bones that they first mistook as belonging to an animal but later realized were human.
The cleaning crew called Phoenix Police on April 4 and police concluded that the skeletal remains are those of an adult male, said Sgt. Tommy Thompson, a Phoenix police spokesman.
Thompson said it is “conceivable” that the remains may be those of Gary Lee Duffield, 59, who was reported missing within days of the March 19, 2017 fire.
Duffield lived in the house at the time of the fire, but Thompson said the remains have not been positively identified by the Maricopa County Medical Examiners Office, which is assisting in the investigation. He said police are considering the case a homicide investigation.
“It is unknown how long the remains have been in the house,” Thompson wrote in a press release. “It will be up to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner to determine the age, sex, the cause of death and try to identify the individual.”
Videos show that the house’s roof caved in during the fire, leaving a gaping hole.
A Phoenix Fire Department spokesman declined comment, saying the fire scene is under investigation by police. Media reports quoted firefighters as saying in 2017 that they were investigating the fire as a possible arson but determined there was insufficient evidence to determine a cause.
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.
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.