A woman's body was found yesterday afternoon in the basement of a North Laurel motel.
Howard County police said last night that there were no obvious signs of foul play and that they are awaiting autopsy results.
Authorities, neighbors and others at the Valencia Motel and Efficiencies, in the 10100 block of U.S. 1, speculated that the woman was homeless and seeking warmth from the motel boilers or that she was a homicide victim.
The body was in a part of the motel rarely inspected by employees, in the basement of the one-story southern wing of the Valencia, on the east side of U.S. 1.
Sgt. Steven E. Keller, county police spokesman, said there was no way to tell how long the body had been in the small room, where workers can repair water and heating pipes.
"Every time you find a body, you treat it like a homicide," Keller said.
The body was so decomposed that the age and race of the woman could not be determined without forensic tests, he said.
Eugene Mathews, 43, a maintenance worker, said he found the body as he went about his rounds, checking equipment and making sure homeless people were not using the room as a shelter.
About two weeks ago, Mathews and another maintenance worker, Tony Ramagnano, were checking a boiler room and found trash, suggesting that someone had slept there one night, they said.
About 4: 15 p.m. yesterday, Mathews ducked under pipes in the basement and noticed what on closer examination proved to be a woman's hand. He called police.
"She was just lying there on her back," Mathews said.
He said the woman was wearing a pink shirt, jeans and boots.
It was unclear how the woman entered that part of the basement, which is accessible only through a courtyard that is enclosed by tall fences topped with barbed wire.
The motel has 73 rooms, and about 25 percent of its guests stay for more than a week, said Tauseef Malik, the manager.
Malik, who said the dead woman was not a motel guest, said he called police three times last year about people seeking shelter in the boiler rooms.
Many of the motel's residents said they were not surprised that a body was found there because the motel is in a rough neighborhood.
Others were horrified to learn that a body had been found beneath their rooms.
"Oh my God, that's scary," said Tonya Bennett, 23, who has lived at the Valencia with her husband and two children for two weeks. "I'm very glad I'm leaving Thursday."
Pub Date: 12/16/97