Worker found dead in department store bathroom was there 4 days, police say

The Belk store in Columbia, S.C., is where a woman was found dead inside a bathroom.
The Belk store in Columbia, S.C., is where a woman was found dead inside a bathroom.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 5:39 AM PDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 6:37 AM PDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/Gray News) - A 63-year-old woman named Bessie Durham, who worked as a janitor at the Belk department store, was found dead inside the department store’s public bathroom.

Police said Durham was last seen on Thursday by another employee, but her body had not been discovered until Monday night.

For four days, Durham’s body went unnoticed inside a public restroom during a busy shopping weekend.

Deputy Chief Melron Kelly with the Columbia Police Department says the family of Durham had not spoken to her for four days and actually went to the station to file a missing person’s report.

“We were with the family taking a missing person’s report, and once we were on scene and did a little investigating, we did discover the person deceased at the Belk,” said Deputy Chief Melron Kelly of Columbia Police Department.

Police are investigating why and how no one noticed Durham, but with the investigation in its early stages, criminal charges could still be a possibility.

“We’re still working with the store to find out what their process is to closing down the store, inspecting the store and things of that nature,” Kelly said.

Belk issued the following statement: “First and foremost, we send our deepest condolences to the family of the housekeeping associate who was employed by KBS, which provides cleaning services at our Columbiana Centre location. At this time, we are working with KBS to determine the details around what happened. We have also made counselors available to Belk and KBS associates seeking support.

The deputy chief said they’ll continue to work with the employers and the mall to confirm when Durham was last seen, and they’ll be working with the Lexington County Coroner to determine when exactly she died.

The coroner said there were also no indications of drug use. An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.

A few people in the area Tuesday afternoon said they’re asking how something like this could happen.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Beverly Stroman, who lives in Columbia.

“You wonder why the customers didn’t see it and report it, but you would think, the employees if she’s still on the clock, would know that and go and check to see where she was,” said Stroman.

“That’s terrible,” said Sherry Wheeler, another Columbia resident.

“I was just there yesterday ... if I’d gone in the restroom, which I usually do a lot, you know, I don’t know, that’s just terrible,” said Wheeler.