Why was skeleton in chimney of Louisiana bank?
Joseph W. Schexnider, in an undated photo, disappeared in 1984. His remains were found in a bank chimney in May.
July 27th, 2011
09:41 AM ET

Why was skeleton in chimney of Louisiana bank?

Skeletal remains found in the chimney of an Abbeville, Louisiana, bank two months ago have been identified as those of a local man who hadn't been seen in 27 years.

The remains are those of Joseph W. Schexnider, who vanished at age 22 in January 1984, Abbeville police said. His disappearance was noted after he failed to show up for a court hearing on a charge of possession of a stolen vehicle, according to a report from CNN affiliate WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge. When Vermilion Parish sheriff's deputies showed up at his home to take him in to custody, Schexnider's mother said he had fled to avoid arrest.

The remains were discovered in May when construction workers were doing renovations on the Bank of Abbeville, WAFB reported. Tests by the Louisiana State University Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services Laboratory established the remains were those of Schexnider, who would be 49 years old now. Authorities say he likely died of dehydration and starvation, reported CNN affiliate KATC-TV in Arcadia-Lafayette.

What remains a mystery is why Schexnider was in the chimney.

Abbeville Police Detective Lt. David Hardy told KATC that Schexnider had gloves and a cigarette lighter on him, but no bag or anything to indicate he planned to carry loot from the bank. And Hardy told the TV station there was nothing to indicate that Schexnider was killed and his body dumped in the chimney.

"There's no signs of foul play in this investigation, so as of now it's going to be a closed case," KATC quotes Hardy as saying.

Hardy told The Advertiser newspaper that if Schexnider had planned a burglary, the chimney was not the way into the historic southwestern Louisiana bank.

"There was no wide-open fireplace at the bottom," The Advertiser quoted Hardy as saying. "It wasn't like a wood-burning fireplace - there was no opening, no large space at the bottom. It wasn't a traditional fireplace - maybe more like something that would burn coal."

And the chimney didn't even open to the bank's main floor, but rather office space on the second floor that had been used for storage for many years, Hardy told CNN.

And how could Schexnider have been missing for nearly three decades in the main branch of a bank which sits right on the main square in the town of 25,000 people?

"His family said he had a history of leaving ... and spending a lot of time away from Abbeville. In fact at one time, he joined the circus and traveled around with them until they left the country," Hardy told KATC.

Relatives are planning a funeral when remains are returned from the LSU lab, police told KATC. In the meantime, they were not commenting.

"His mother is upset that she lost a son, of course, but she is at ease that she now knows where her son is," KATC quotes Hardy as saying.

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Filed under: Crime • Louisiana
soundoff (410 Responses)
  1. gary

    He was just doing some free chimney sweeping. Noting bad here, not attempting to rob the bank or anything

    July 28, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  2. psychicstalker

    Carbon monoxide poisoning?

    July 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  3. GoldenGloves Champ

    I think Casey Anthony did it.

    July 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • MichaelHuntEsq

      No, it's pretty clear that George Bush is responsible.

      July 28, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Jon

    I cannot fathom a more horrible tortuous death.....

    July 28, 2011 at 10:57 pm | Report abuse |
  5. jimintexas

    These stories always amaze me. My chimeny is exactly 8 inches in diameter. You coudln't get a cat down it. How big was this chimney that someone was able even enter it? I'm guessing no one mudered him and stuck the remains there. And why didn't anyone notice the smell? I had a mouse – a tiny mouse – die in behind my refrigerator and the place smelled like a cow had died somewhere. I can understand how a guy could go missing this long, but how long can a rotting corpse clogging a chimney go undetected? Very strange.

    July 28, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beth

      Was thinking the same thing about the smell of decomposition. In Louisiana? Really? Very, very bizarre!

      July 29, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Saw a story about this incident earlier and thought just about the same thing (regarding the expected smells). I am thinking that, if it is an older building and he was in a secluded part, the air (along with "smell") didn't flow to areas where people would've noticed.
      I remembered a story from this spring where something similar happened in Texas (Jamie Minor... story on nydailynews.com didn't know if I could include actual link). I don't know if it was the smell that led them to discover her remains or not, since it was a short while before she was discovered.

      July 29, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      to "Beth":
      I know that things left in hot/humid environments smell really bad, but decompose more quickly. Maybe if he died in a hot period, and no one was in a connected area, he was "bones" and decomposition was finished before anyone could notice.

      July 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ChiTownTom

      First of all the decomposition would have taken place in 1984 and any related odors would have been detected at that time. Was the second floor occupied at that time? Also, the draft of the chimney would have wafted any odor up and out of the chimney (supposing it was working correctly). Lastly, is it possible that the smoke from the fireplace would "smoke" the remains (like a sausage) eventually drying them out and effectively mummifying the remains? The story does referr to "skeletal" remains but I wonder exactly what state they were in.

      July 31, 2011 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • iRex

      I would imagine the lack of smell was due to it not being in use and high on the building, it said the chimney went to a second floor furnace that wasn't in use, that was in a storage space. Also, chimneys are designed to draft air up, so its likely the smell was just too far above ground to be detected easily.

      August 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • dd

      In another story I read, it said that there was a meat market or something of that extent very close by, and those around thought it was just rotting meat. The business actually spent around $20,000 on new pipes trying to get rid of the smell, but now we know why nothing worked.

      August 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carol

      What's the mystery? He was just stupid, and the people who can't figure out that he was just stupid are also stupid.

      August 4, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • angela

      @ Carol, geez, kinda beeotchy today aren't we? You don't know what happened either so does that make you stupid.

      August 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jessicaber

    Maybe it happened in the winter? And why does his picture show him as an honorable solider or whatever, but then they are saying that he was running from a court hearing?

    July 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. MsBWP

    I can't imagine him being stuck in there all these years. Over time yeah the smell would be gone...I guess. No offense to Louisiana but some parts down there always smell like something has died...I guess it's the swamp, heat, etc. I guess he either went in the chimney to hide or to rob the place. He could have lasted a few days....wonder how come no one ever hearding him screaming to get out. Horrible way to die.....

    August 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. JackT

    Who is dumber? The felon, Joseph W. Schexnider, who jumped into the chimney to get inside the bank to rob it? Or, the Abbeville Police Detective Lt. David Hardy, who cannot figure out WHY he was in the Chimney? It's HAS to be a close tie!!!!! LOL!

    August 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. jessicaber

    Absolutely Jack. And I have been reading his blog thread for what close to a month and you are the first person to figure that out. I honestly had not even figured it out. Wow.

    August 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. louisiana maritime attorneys

    I honestly had not even figured it out.

    August 11, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
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