OAKVILLE — Human remains have been found at a vacant property where the previous resident was discovered dead three years ago, leaving area residents shocked and puzzled.
Multiple people in Oakville, a local urban district about 50 kilometres west of Winnipeg, said the property’s new owner made the grim find as he trimmed overgrown branches and tidied up around the dilapidated 1 1/2-storey home, which was recently auctioned off due to unpaid taxes.
The remains were reportedly found inside a derelict Ford camper van, which, along with a Mercury car, was covered in snow and had been abandoned in the driveway for years.
"The new owner found the remains and went to the police," said one woman, who asked not to be named, as police remained at the taped-off scene Wednesday.
"Can you imagine? He just bought the property. It’s quite shocking for a small, quiet town."
Portage la Prairie RCMP received a call about human remains, which are "not historic in nature," at about 2:10 p.m. Tuesday, a news release stated.
Spokesman Sgt. Paul Manaigre said an autopsy would take place.
Oakville residents said the house on 2nd Avenue has been vacant since the previous occupant, a reclusive 78-year-old man who lived alone, died in November 2018.
The man had reportedly been dead for some time before his body was found inside the home. "The vehicles were there before he died and they never moved," said the woman, who lives nearby.
At least two to three years before his death, the former property owner told people his wife had died at home, locals said.
"He had said she had a stroke and she died," the woman said. "We didn’t even know that she had died until months later."
Another woman, who also lives nearby and asked to remain anonymous, said she had asked the man about his wife at the time, after hearing she had died months earlier.
"He said she was sick in the morning and he got her up and fed her and she just died," the woman said.
However, residents who talked with the Free Press didn’t recall seeing any emergency vehicles or coroner’s vehicle at the home at the time, nor a published obituary for the wife.
Residents who knew the former property owner described him as a "recluse," who seemed abrupt and unfriendly but mostly kept to himself.
In the years he lived alone, the man was occasionally seen walking to and from a grocery store a few streets away.
"When he died, we told (the RCMP) he said his wife had died and that we didn’t see anyone — the police or an ambulance — at the house (at that time)," one area woman told the Free Press.
Manaigre said officers attended the scene in November 2018, following the 78-year-old man’s death.
"No criminality was involved in that investigation," the RCMP spokesman said. "There were no calls to this residence prior to the November 2018 call."
The Rural Municipality of Portage la Prairie auctioned off the house Dec. 14. A public notice for the tax sale listed the 78-year-old man’s wife as the registered owner and it referred to her estate.
After Tuesday’s discovery of human remains, police sealed off the property.
As a forensic identification team analyzed the scene Wednesday afternoon, one officer peered into the white camper van through the open driver’s side door.
Police used tools to trim branches around the vehicle, as plainclothes detectives went door-to-door speaking to residents.
One neighbour said he saw the police presence when he returned home Tuesday and assumed it was for something such as a break-in.
"I never expected to hear what was really going on there," said the man, who didn’t want to give his name. "The house had been vacant after (the man) passed away… They were reclusive people. They didn’t really interact with people too much."