The body spotted Friday by a Verizon worker in an underground cable vault in North Baltimore's Mid-Govans neighborhood was that of a decomposed white female, and detectives are awaiting the results of an autopsy, according to police.
The telephone cable splicer, Barry Schwaab, said he had been preparing to do routine maintenance on buried lines and was about to climb down into the vault through a manhole when he saw the body lying face-down in about 5 feet of water. The vault is on a wide alley off Benninghaus Road, just east of York Road.
"It was a shocker," Schwaab said, adding that he quickly called 911.
Police and firefighters arrived about 10:15 a.m. After Verizon workers pumped all but a foot of water from the hole, two firefighters with the Special Rescue Operations unit put on wetsuits and air masks and were lowered by a pulley to the bottom. They put the body on a stretcher and used the pulley to hoist it out of the hole about 1:35 p.m.
Fire Department Lt. Scott Merbach, who leads the rescue unit, said the steps going to the bottom had rusted. He said the recovery took hours because firefighters had to adhere to federal safety guidelines governing close-space rescues.
The body was discovered near a Verizon switching station and behind a church and the Urban Renaissance Development Corp. building. Residents and workers gathered to watch the recovery effort, along with dozens of firefighters, uniformed officers, homicide detectives and investigators with the medical examiner's office. Five firetrucks and numerous police cars clogged the narrow streets.
Police said it appears the woman died or was killed and dumped in the underground vault. A police source said the body was missing hands and feet, but that one detached foot was found near the body, still in a tennis shoe. It is possible the limbs became separated during decomposition or because of an animal, the source said..