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Department store takes four days to find worker’s body in bathroom: ‘You wonder why customers didn’t see it’

Belk department stores operate across the US (Getty Images)
Belk department stores operate across the US (Getty Images)

An investigation is underway in South Carolina after the body of a 63-year-old department store employee was discovered four days after she went missing in a bathroom, officials have said.

Bessie Durham, who worked as a janitor at the Belk department store in Columbia, died after entering a bathroom at the store inside the city’s Columbiana Center on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

While a cause of death has yet been determined, officials say she was last seen on surveillance footage entering the bathroom and did not leave in the four days before her body was uncovered. Her cleaning cart was outside the restroom.

Columbia Deputy Police Chief Melron Kelly told WIS-TV that a family member reported Ms Durham missing, which lead to a search for the woman.

“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 Mr Kelly.

The department store was open during the four days that Ms Durham was missing, although it remains unclear if the public bathroom were her body was located was also in use during the time period.

The Lexington County Coroner’s Office said there are no signs of drug use or foul play in Ms Durham’s death, and that an autopsy was due to be carried out to determine her cause of death.

Police are also probing the incident to see if any acts of negligence were committed, according to WIS-TV.

“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,” Mr Kelly said of the response.

Shoppers interviewed by WIS-TV expressed their surprise at at the death, with Columbia resident Beverley Shroman telling reporters: “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered”.

“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,” she added.

Belk said in a statement to the local news outlet that it was working with the police investigation and that it expressed “our deepest condolences to the family of the housekeeping associate who was employed by KBS, which provides cleaning services at our Columbiana Centre location”.

The company added: “At this time, we are working with KBS to determine the details around what happened. We have also made counsellors available to Belk and KBS associates seeking support.”