A desk clerk at a Tampa Bay apartment complex for seniors nonchalantly disposed of the body of a resident who'd jumped 16 stories to her death Tuesday night, mistakenly thinking all along that her corpse was a mannequin left from an April Fool's prank.
Tampa Bay Times reporter Weston Phippen detailed the incredible story of the clerk, Ronald Benjamin, yesterday:
Benjamin, 61, looked onto the patio and saw a shape on the ground. It looked to him like a mannequin. An April Fools' Day joke, he concluded, and went back to work.
Two hours later, another employee of the senior housing complex at 440 Fourth Ave. N told Benjamin about the shape on the patio. It was just a prank, Benjamin assured her.
When a woman and her teen son came by to deliver the Tampa Bay Times, Benjamin asked the boy to help him move the mannequin into a Dumpster.
He grabbed the shoes and the teen clasped a handful of clothes, which was topped with a ball of whitish-gray hair. It weighed almost nothing, Benjamin noted, as they heaved it into the trash.
Benjamin saw what looked like blood, but he thought it was fake.
Hours later, other workers at the complex discovered that the shape in the Dumpster was not a mannequin, but a 96-year-old resident of the complex who had jumped 16 stories to her death sometime during the night.
They called Benjamin, whose shift had ended by then, and told him to come back. He was stunned when he was told that it was a person.
Benjamin, who was fired by his bosses, sounded deeply troubled and contrite when the Times asked him about the mistake. He assumed that because the bars had just closed down for the night, some reveler was having fun with a mannequin:
"I'm telling you, I swear to God, the face looked like a rubber mask," he said as he sat on his couch stroking his aging Yorkshire terrier on his lap. "If I thought for one instant it was a real person I would have called the police, my manager, everyone I could think of."
Experts said the fall could have distorted the features of the woman, who was not identified, but who had left a suicide note and was described by an acquaintance at her nursing home as a "refined" woman.