When the body of 60-year-old Townsend Hills, who had been dead for several days, was found in his Prospect Street home Monday, the question on most lips was "how could no one have noticed?"
According to police, the fact that no one knew Hills was dead in his home was not surprising; in the past several weeks, police have found two bodies of people who had been dead for several days.
Police said that foul play is not suspected in any of the deaths. Gloucester police Detective Thomas Quinn, who investigated Hills' and one of the other deaths, reiterated Tuesday that such circumstances are becoming more and more common.
"People live alone, they only talk to other people every few days, so if no one hears from them it isn't too surprising," Quinn said. "Unfortunately, it's just a reality."
Gloucester, which prides itself on its close-knit community, was alerted to Hills' death when a well-being check turned into suspicion of a gas leak, which ended with the discovery of Hills' body.
The state medical examiner's office said Tuesday that a time of death has yet to be determined, but officers at the scene estimated that the body, which had begun to decompose noticeably, had been there for several days.
"This goes on in every community," said Quinn.
In Gloucester, residents often think of themselves as living in a small town, leaving doors unlocked and chatting with neighbors whose families they have known for years. Gloucester is a city, however, with more and more reminders coming, in the form of thefts from unlocked cars and now three deaths that went unnoticed for days by neighbors or by anyone else.
"Gloucester as a community does an exceptional job caring for one another, and stories like these remind us how important it is to know our neighbors," said Julie LaFontaine, director of The Open Door, a social services agency that runs Cape Ann's food pantry.
Hills' neighbors did not answer their doors or their phones when the Times attempted to contact the residents of 8 Prospect St. on Tuesday. According to police, Hills' mailbox had several days worth of mail in it, which could have been visible to his neighbors.
Hills moved to Prospect Street from Maplewood Court several years ago, according to a cab driver who used to take him on his errands.
"Once he moved over to Prospect, he didn't call us as much," Mark Drouin said Tuesday.
According to Drouin, Hills would ask to be driven "from point A to point B," though the drivers would sometimes also take him on what Drouin called "safaris" to let him see the Gloucester landscape.
"He was a very eccentric person, but he was a very nice guy," Drouin said. "He will be surely missed."
Drouin said that Lighthouse Cab Company used to take Hills on his weekly trips to Rockport National Bank. One of its tellers on Monday contacted police and requested that an officer check on Hills when she noticed that he had not been in for several Mondays, though he usually came in every week.
Drouin said the cab drivers had also noticed that Hills wasn't calling, but had not considered the idea that something was wrong.
"I think someone asked a week ago, but nothing really happened," said Drouin. "We're so busy, you know."
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or email@example.com.