Four months after being reported missing by her husband, the body of a 67-year old Henderson, Nevada woman has been found in the home that they shared together. After Billie Jean James was reported missing by her husband, Bill, on April 22, police searched their home three times using police dogs. Given that the home was a "labyrinth of squalor" (as one police report described), visual searching of the house was impossible due to the house being filled to the ceiling with boxes of "stuff". In addition to all the accumulated possessions that she had collected, piles of rotting garbage, animal feces, and moldy clothes resulted in a powerful odor that limited the extent to which search dogs could be used.
After police failed to find Ms. James' body in the house, her husband organized searches of the area and offered a $10,000 reward for information relating to her disappearance. Police had initially focused their search on the surrounding desert due to fears that she had become disoriented as a result of a minor stroke she had experienced five months earlier. Her disappearance alarmed many in the community with outdoor vigils being held. Only when Bill James cleared an estimated 4.5 tonnes of rubbish from one of the small rooms in the house was his wife's body finally found. He later stated that he was uncertain that he had found his wife at first when he saw a pair of her shoes sticking out from the clutter. She had apparently been dead four months and her body had been buried under the rubble in their home. Despite the squalid conditions of the house, questions have been raised how a dead body could go undiscovered for so long without being found by police.
In an interview with KTNV television, Bill James expressed anger over how his wife was being remembered. "Yes there was clutter in the house and yes we found Billie underneath
some stuff. But what people are saying ... It's just trying to inflame
things and it's very disrespectful to her". Despite being a compulsive hoarder and needing to have a second home built on their property to hold all her belongings, family and friends described her as a friendly, outgoing person who had been a long-time environmental and civic activist. At the time of her disappearance, she and her husband had been planning to travel to Hawaii for a week of volunteer service.
The case is still under investigation and the coroner's office has indicated that it could take weeks to determine when and how she died. An estimated 2 to 5 per cent of Americans are chronic hoarders and fatalities relating to hoarding behaviour occur each year.