MADISON (WKOW) --- Mary Coleman, 70, of Madison was listed as a missing person when police officers found her body August 15 amidst filth in a home on the city's west side.
Acquaintances said her disappearance culminated Coleman's progressively secluded existence after nearly forty years as a long distance telephone operator for AT & T.
"She kept to herself, but did her job all those years and was a nice person," fellow AT & T retiree Carol Christensen of Madison told 27 News.
"She wouldn't hurt a soul."
Coleman's former manager, Pat Doucette, said Coleman was hired in 1959 and retired in the fall of 1998. Doucette told 27 News she last saw Coleman at a Catholic mass in a Madison church in May.
Another former co-worker, Mary Hobson of Madison, said Coleman was "reclusive" but stayed in touch through letters and phone calls, and was conscientious about remembering birthdays and other events with cards and small gifts.
"She had cancer and was dealing with chemotherapy treatments," Hobson told 27 News. "But she still had her driver's license and kept up her apartment beautifully."
Coleman had a Fitchburg apartment, but was found by officers in the Whenona Drive home she co-owned with her sister, Veronica King, and King's adult son, Coleman's nephew Steven King.
Dane County's coroner said Coleman apparently died of natural causes, but court documents indicate authorities suspect Coleman's body may have been mutilated and hidden. Documents state newspapers and garbage were piled up five feet high in places in the home.
Court records state Steven King suffered from mental illness, and a neighbor told 27 News King appeared threatening at times. Documents state Veronica King was committed to a facility in Middleton after the discovery of Coleman's body.
Authorities said the recent search for Coleman took them to her Fitchburg apartment and the Madison home, but some visits were stymied by the stench of the home and the unwillingness of her relatives to provide complete access.
Hobson said Coleman asked her advice several months ago about the possibility of Coleman assuming power of attorney for her sister.
But Coleman's former co-workers said they were unaware of any threat posed to Coleman by her relatives.
Christensen said during their careers as operators, Coleman would relate fond stories of her nephew.
"She was always very proud of her family."
Coleman's former colleagues worried about burial services for Coleman, with Coleman's sister and nephew her only known, remaining relatives.