Newly-released case files from the Houston Police Department include a investigator’s official best guess at how Mary Cerruti’s skeleton ended up in a 5 ft.-9 in. by 1 ft.-7 in. space between the walls of her bungalow: a plank in the attic collapsed, writes detective T. Fay, sending Cerruti down into the 8-and-a-half-foot tall opening where she became trapped and died. The photo above — one of 235 police took at the scene — shows the hole in the floorboards where her remains were found to the right of the attic door.
Cerruti, the former homeowner, was an opponent of the Yale at 6th apartments that eventually encircled her bungalow at 610 Allston St. On an afternoon last March — reports the Chronicle’s Emily Foxhall, who’s been all over the story as it’s developed — firefighters responding to a 911 call from the new renter who’d discovered the remains arrived at the address and busted open the wall from the house’s first floor. Fay, the detective, speculated that the spot in the wall housing the bones might once have been a linen closet, sealed off by renovations.
A missing person’s report filed 2 years earlier in 2015 — after Cerruti first disappeared — suggested that the remains were likely hers. But with the bones and a few other items as the only evidence police could recover from the scene, there wasn’t much for them to investigate. There were no signs of foul play at the bungalow, and no reason to believe someone was out to harm Cerruti. The only thing police had left to do was wait for forensic identification — which the medical examiner announced last month.
Photo: Houston Police Department via Emily Foxhall
A Hole in the Attic
Harris County’s Institute of Forensic Sciences has now officially determined that the bones found in a holdout house on Allston St. now wrapped by an apartment complex whose developer came knocking but was unable to acquire the property belong to the homeowner who protested the development. Mary Cerruti spent time documenting construction on the
Alexan Yale St. Yale at 6th apartments (formerly called Alexan Heights) starting in 2013 as they went up behind and around her bungalow at 610 Allston. Squinting behind red drugstore eyeglasses at a planning commission meeting on Valentines Day that year, the 61-year-old testified that “Literally, this project is going to be in my backyard. I’m surrounded.” Two years later, she disappeared.
Cerruti’s former home has been available for sale since March of last year. (“Amazing opportunity in the Houston Heights. New construction all around and the house is surrounded by the new Alexan Heights Luxury Apartments,” reads the listing.) Last November, the asking price for the 2-bedroom, 1-bath property was jacked up to $475,000. The only other property on the block left out of the apartment development is the vacant lot next door.
The county medical examiner’s new findings confirm what investigators had long suspected but had previously been unable to prove. Last June, an autopsy on the skeleton (which had been significantly chewed-up by rodents while it lay undiscovered inside the bungalow) showed that one of its legs was healing from a break — perhaps caused when its owner fell through a hole in the attic floorboards, into the spot high in the bungalow’s walls where her remains were later found.
Crime experts walked back their speculations 2 weeks ago, however, after DNA comparisons between one of the skeleton’s teeth and samples submitted by Cerruti’s relatives showed no exact match. But examiners were able to make their identification after comparing the skull’s jawbones to a photo of Cerruti and the video of her appearance before the planning commission, reports the Chronicle‘s Emily Foxhall.
Trammell Crow started work on the 5-story Alexan complex in 2013 behind and around Cerruti’s then-yellow bungalow:
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The Plot Thickens
A TWIST IN THE MYSTERY OF WHO OWNS THOSE HEIGHTS HOLDOUT HOUSE BONES
Maybe you were expecting DNA testing to identify those human remains — found inside the wall of a Heights bungalow on Allston St. — as those of Mary Cerruti, the missing 61-year-old woman who refused to let Trammell Crow annex her home as part of the Alexan Heights apartment complex the developer built on the block. After sending one of the recovered teeth to the University of North Texas last year to compare it to DNA samples from 3 of Cerruti’s relatives, the results are in — and there’s no exact match, reports Emily Foxhall. The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences is still working to see if there’s any connection between Cerruti and skeleton left behind at 610 Allston, but according to a spokesperson, further study will take “a lengthy period of time.” [Houston Chronicle; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HAR
BONES FOUND IN HOLDOUT HEIGHTS HOUSE ATTIC TELL NO TALES Fox26 has now updated its story from March on the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of Mary Cerruti, the former owner of the 2-bedroom home at 610 Allston St. in the Heights, whose mysterious disappearance in 2015 roughly coincided with the latter stages of Trammell Crow’s construction of the 6-story Alexan Heights apartment complex adjacent to her home. Cerruti was a vocal opponent of the development who refused to sell her property and later reportedly complained greatly about the inconveniences caused by the construction. Her former home is now surrounded on 3 sides by the 6-story apartment building; and earlier this year renters in the same home discovered some unidentified human remains — next to a pair of red reading glasses similar to ones Cerruti wore — behind a loose board in the attic. Today, reports Kaitlin Monte, the Harris County Medical Examiner has announced that it cannot determine the cause of death from that evidence —“because the remains were skeletonized.” The 1,161-sq.-ft. home, meanwhile, has been on the market since March, though the asking price has jumped from $439,900 to $475,000. [Fox26; HAR; previously on Swamplot] Photo: HAR
The 2-bedroom home snuggled into the western side of the Alexan Heights apartment complex has hit the market this week, lagging a few days behind this weekend’s discovery of an unidentified skeleton in a wall cavity accessible from the attic. The holdout house was foreclosed on in early 2015 after then-owner Mary Cerruti stopped making mortgage payments; it’s not clear exactly when she went missing, but she reportedly sent someone a Valentine, the Chronicle‘s Emily Foxhall reported earlier this week. Foxhall noted that while the bones were uncovered along with a pair of cheap red glasses like the ones Cerruti was known to wear, the skeleton had not yet been officially identified (nor had foul play been ruled either in or out).
The recently remodeled house is currently on the market for $439,900; the 1,161-sq.-ft. building sits on a 6,600-sq.-ft. lot, spooned on 3 sides by the Alexan:
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Selling the Scene
Here’s a preview of the 9-story hotel planned for the stretch of now-mostly-cleared land along Lehall St. at Bertner Ave. south of the Texas Medical Center. The land slated to hold the Blossom Hotel Houston is right across Bertner from where the TMC wants to build a double helix park and collaborative campus; Zhejiang Blossom Tourism Group has been buying up lots on the east and northeast of the block, which have held a mixture of homes, a commercial building, and nothing over the last few decades.
Not shown in the rendering: the lone house still standing right on at the corner of Lehall St. and Bertner Ave.:
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Last One Standing