A 77-year-old Waynesboro woman whose body was found Saturday at a nearby home almost a month after she went missing died of natural causes, Burke County Coroner Susan Salemi said Monday.
The cause of death is listed as senility with Alzheimer’s and probable hypothermia, and Bennett might have died not long after she went missing on Jan. 16, Salemi said.
She said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation medical examiner in Atlanta, however, made the decision not to perform an autopsy on retired teacher Arletha Diane Bennett because the body did not display any signs of trauma or foul play, and there was no reason to examine it further.
The medical examiner told her the GBI crime lab is “stacked up” and it is only examining bodies in which foul play is suspected.
The body was found in the laundry room of a residence at 1144 Herman Lodge Blvd. Authorities received a call about 2 p.m. Saturday, after Wayne Jenkins and James Salisbury, who lives at the home, discovered Bennett.
Bennett lived several houses down on the same street where her body was found.
Earlier this month, police officers and volunteers from across the Southeast travelled to Waynesboro to help search for her, at times using all-terrain vehicles and police helicopters to cover the surrounding rural area.
Waynesboro police frequently turned to social media during the search for help, urging citizens to check any sheds, cars, buildings and wooded areas where Bennett might have sought shelter.
Salemi said recent cold might have played a role in preventing decay and its odor.
The highest recorded temperature during the period that Bennett had been missing was 72 degrees on Feb. 2, according to meteorologist Chris Lincinsky, of the National Weather Service. The average high temperature recorded so far in February is 57.8 degrees.
Waynesboro Police Chief Augustus Palmer III, who sent out a news release announcing that Bennett had died of natural causes late Monday, didn’t immediately return phone calls from The Augusta Chronicle seeking more information on how Bennett might have ended up at Salisbury’s house.
Bennett was a 35-year veteran of the Burke County School System.