The skeletal remains found in an old New Jersey police headquarters gutted by fire more than three decades ago may belong to a homeless man who accidentally locked himself in a holding cell and couldn't get out, according to a woman whose family owns the building.
Susan Greenbaum, whose family is in the process of selling the building to a developer, told NBC 4 New York police believe the man got into the Paterson Police Department station on Washington Street, which has been boarded up since the devastating 1980 blaze, and somehow locked himself in the cell.
Greenbaum said police think he died there about eight to 10 years ago; she said the approximate date of death is based on a water bottle and over-the-counter medication found near him in the cell. A contractor working with the new owner of the building found the remains Monday, she said.
"It's tragic and we are upset about it," said Greenbaum. "My family was born and raised in this community, and we have a great respect for the community. It's sad that we have a homeless problem."
Police did not responds to requests for comment on the circumstances Greenbaum detailed to NBC 4 New York. Earlier, authorities said only that a decomposing body belonging to a man was found in the building.
The building has been vacant and boarded up since it was damaged by a fire on Feb. 8, 1980.
The department's headquarters were temporarily moved to the old Central High School on Hamilton Street after the fire; the headquarters are now housed on Broadway. According to a New Jersey history blog, the Washington Street headquarters had been consumed by flames previously -- in the so-called "Great Fire" of Feb. 9, 1902 that devoured more than 450 buildings and 25 city blocks.
The headquarters were rebuilt after that fire, but abandoned after the one 78 years later.
Authorities say additional information about the man's identity will not be released at this time.