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Elderly Woman's Decomposed Body Found at Newtown Creek, Officials Say

By Gwynne Hogan | October 31, 2017 9:49am
 Emergency responders combed the area near where Willis Elkins found the decaying corpse.
Emergency responders combed the area near where Willis Elkins found the decaying corpse.
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Courtesy of Willis Elkins, Newtown Creek Alliance

EAST WILLIAMSBURG — A worker collecting samples from a tributary of Newtown Creek made a grisly discovery when he came upon a woman's decomposed body on the shore of the heavily polluted waterway.

Willis Elkins, a program manager with the Newtown Creek Alliance, has traveled up and down Newtown Creek countless times on his small motorboat, often finding dead cats and birds floating in the water, as well as raw sewage spewing into the waterway.

But what he saw Friday afternoon was his most disturbing sighting by far.

While collecting samples near the base of English Kills, a small tributary that flows between Morgan and Varick avenues, Elkins stumbled on a human corpse, rotted beyond recognition, sitting cross-legged on the bank, propped up between a tree and a corrugated metal wall.

"You could see a lot of the skin had deteriorated. You could see parts of the skull. The clothes were still intact," he added. "It was weird scene. I'd never seen a dead body like that."

A photo Elkins provided DNAinfo New York showed a scene right out a zombie thriller, with the corpse's face peeled back to expose a hollow skull. The body was dressed in what appeared to be a gray T-shirt, jeans and gray Converse sneakers. Next to the body, a fire-engine red backpack sat covered in leaves, with a green Nalgene water bottle poking out from a side pocket.

Elkins called police, who arrived at the wooded area just behind 123 Varick Ave., officials said.

During a preliminary investigation, police concluded it was the body of an elderly woman. The city's Office of Chief Medical Examiner is still working to determine her cause of death.

The desolate edge of the English Kills tributary, accessible from land by way of Morgan Avenue along unguarded freight train tracks, has long been a hideout for a small homeless population, Elkins said.

He noted that he's found evidence of encampments and drug paraphernalia along the bank.

"Thinking about who this person might have been — what transpired in them being in this place that's so degraded and isolated," he explained. "It sort of speaks to the neglect with the back of the Newtown Creek that something like this could happen and be there for so long without anybody noticing."