MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Police are investigating the mysterious death of a woman whose body was found outside of a vacant Long Island home on Valentine’s Day.
Irene Luetje, 60, of North Massapequa, was found dead more than a month after she disappeared.
“It’s been racing through my head for two months now,” the victim’s brother, Eugene Snow, told CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider on Wednesday night. “Everyone’s been trying to figure it out; trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Her body was found by contractors in the front yard of a Sandy-damaged home on Ocean Avenue about five miles away from her own studio apartment around 12:30 p.m. last Thursday, police said.
“I looked up, saw knees, shoes, and then I saw the body,” the contractor said.
“She was a good woman. It shouldn’t have happened this way. We wanted her home safely, not the way she’s coming home,” the victim’s sister, Lorraine Hauser, told CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan.
When Luetje’s body was found, it was severely decomposed, making a conclusive autopsy difficult. But police said there were no obvious signs of trauma.
“Her purse was intact, her driver’s license. There was money in the purse. There’s no indication that she was the victim of any type of criminality,” Nassau County Police Lt. John Azzata told reporters, including WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall. “Unfortunately, at this point it’s a mystery to us why she’s there, how she wound up there.”
Luetje’s family and her boss grew concerned after she failed to show up for work at Farmingdale State College on Jan. 8.
“When she didn’t show for work, we knew something was amiss,” said Kathryn Coley of Farmingdale College. “Our university police took action right away. They went to her home to see where she was.”
Her sister’s children went to her home and noticed Luetje’s car was missing, 1010 WINS’ Gene Michael reported. The children knocked on the door and left a note after they didn’t get a response, Hauser said.
An hour later, police arrived and her car was back but Luetje was nowhere to be found. Police entered the home with the landlady and found a brand new order of Chinese food on the table and two cans of soda both of which were untouched, Hauser said.
On Jan. 12, the family filed a missing person report and the landlady said she noticed someone had eaten half of the Chinese food, Hauser said.
Hauser said Luetje was in good health and careful about staying that way. Her family said the intellectual woman, who loved yoga, martial arts, jogs in the park, and bird watching, would have never walked six miles from her North Massapequa home in ballet slippers.
“If she had to get something from the car she would put on her scarf, her coat, her mittens, her hat and go to the car — get it and come back in,” Hauser said. “She was found without a hat, scarf, mittens and wearing ballerina-type shoes.”
The circumstances around Luetje’s disappearance and death remain a mystery.
“We’re looking for any answers or any help we could to finding out why this tragedy happened,” Hauser said. “She was a good, decent human being, well-liked on campus. This is something that should be addressed and answered so she could find peace and the whole family can understand why it happened.”
A recent widow, Luetje’s pride and joy were her nieces. When she didn’t show up for a birthday party, her Ronkonkoma family rushed to her home and she wasn’t there.
“What we’re trying to do is get residents in the area anywhere from where she lived down to the location where she was found to call us and give us some information if they saw her,” Azata said.
Police in Nassau County are waiting for full autopsy results to find out how Luetje died. Her family said the last clue of her whereabouts is surveillance video from a CVS drugstore in North Massapequa on Jan. 7.
But she never made it to work that day.
Luetje was a poet. Farmingdale State College said it will rename its multicultural college poetry award in her memory.
Detectives are asking anyone with information to call the Homicide Squad at 516-573-8800.