A rotting and skeletal corpse found dumped in the street could have been kept in a pensioner’s living room for years, it was claimed today.
A dog walker found the remains of 86-year-old Benjamin Benit inside a windsurfing bag under some bushes in Peckham, south London, last month.
However, on Tuesday police arrested a 75-year-old man – named by neighbours as the dead man’s partner Tom – at their nearby home, following the grisly discovery of a decomposing hand.
Discovery: The skeletal remains of the Benjamin Benit had been found in a bag, dumped in a street near his home in Peckham last month
The hand, thought to be Mr Benit’s, was discovered by council workers at the run-down third-floor flat on the Tustin estate and immediately alerted police.
It is now thought the body could have been kept on the sofa in the living room for years. Today it emerged that Mr Benit, who was registered at the property, disappeared several years ago.
Police are investigating possible benefit fraud and say his body may have been in the flat for two years or more. Neighbours reported a ‘foul stink’ as far back as six years ago.
Sources said the cause of death was not clear and a forensic archaeologist is expected to examine the remains. Experts have been examining the flat and a policeman stood guard outside the door yesterday.
One theory is that Mr Benit’s partner decided to move the body after fearing an inspection by council officers, with part of the corpse becoming dismembered because of the advanced state of decomposition.
Neighbours said the couple had been together for more than 10 years. Tracey Saunders, 38, said: ‘They were lovers. The police told us they found a hand there. It must have fallen off when the body was moved.’
Irene Rutter, 66, described Mr Benit as a ‘nice old man’. She added: ‘He always wore suit trousers, had long grey hair and kept a cat. Tom moved in and the pair would just drink all the time. Then Ben disappeared about six years ago. There was no funeral, nothing. He just vanished.
‘Tom would never speak to anyone, but there was a terrible stink from the flat. No one would go near it. There were a number of complaints but nothing was ever done.’
Habib Wurie, 43, who lives next door, said: ‘The place smelt so bad. I would try to speak to him about it. He would just make noises. I had a lot of difficulties with him.’
Mr Benit’s body was placed in nearby Lovelinch Close some time between 2pm on August 5 and the early hours of August 10. When he was found Mr Benit had a long, grey beard and long fingernails, and was wearing dark trousers and a light T-shirt with ‘England 2002 World Cup Champions’ on it.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard confirmed a 75-year-old man had been arrested and released on bail pending further inquiries.
Detective Chief Inspector Damian Allain, leading the inquiry, said: ‘The victim could have been dead for up to two years or possibly longer.
‘We are appealing for anyone who knew the occupants to come forward and help unravel exactly what happened here.
‘We are looking into the financial backgrounds of these individuals to see if benefits were claimed.
‘I am also appealing for anyone who saw anything suspicious between August 5 and the time the body was discovered to come forward.’