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Corpse Found a Year After Death

September 19, 2000

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) _ Janice Petrowsky just wanted to be left alone. In death, she got what she wanted.

A year after she died at her woodland home, the skeletal remains of the 56-year-old recluse known as ``The Witch″ were found on her kitchen floor, propped up with a pillow and surrounded by her pets’ rotting bodies.

Neighbors said Petrowsky’s only contact with them had been her angry demands to stay away. Occasional messages, laced with profanity, were left on answering machines. And sometimes, they said, she fired a BB gun at children who came too close.

When they began to notice Petrowsky’s absence, they kept it to themselves.

Officials said that while the woman’s remains were too badly decomposed to determine the cause of her death, it did not appear suspicious.

Capt. Christopher Linne said Petrowsky appeared to have made an effort to make her last days on earth comfortable.

``Her body was propped up by one of those pillows with a back and arms on either side,″ he said. ``She had her things around her ... her inhaler and some personal items. She apparently died in that spot. The pets died where they dropped.″

Linne said documents found inside the house showed Petrowsky, who had lived alone since her mother’s death in 1997, had been dead for at least a year.

Officials said Petrowsky had brushed off every attempt to help her.

``She basically threw us off the property,″ said Washington Township Detective Sgt. Michael Bailey. ``Didn’t want any help from anybody.″

Bailey said social workers who tried to visit Petrowsky had their tires slashed and that she had been arrested in 1990 for slashing a neighbor’s car tires.

As bills went unpaid, officials said, Petrowsky’s utilities were turned off. In April, a gas company worker tacked a notice on her front door warning that service would be shut off.

Neighbors noticed that her windows had been open through the winter and that, when spring came, the property was overrun by weeds.

On Aug. 6, a neighbor who found a tattered, 10-month-old copy of the New York Times in the driveway went into the house and found Petrowsky dead in the kitchen.

Police said they had tracked down Petrowsky’s sister, identified as Barbara Wade of Sparta, N.J.

Wade declined comment through her lawyer and did not return a message left on her home answering machine.

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