A 50-year-old San Francisco man who had been reported missing in early January has been found dead inside his Guerrero Street apartment building, less than a week after family members flew to SF and pressed the SFPD to prioritize the case.
The family of Christopher Woitel confirmed his death in a statement on Facebook late Monday, after police located his body somewhere on the premises at 65 Guerrero Street. The case made headlines over the weekend after Mission Local interviewed family members and a private investigator they hired when the SFPD appeared to be slow-walking their own investigation — and it aroused suspicion because surveillance footage showed Woitel entering his building on January 8 but never exiting, and all communication with him went dead on January 9.
"Today, the San Francisco Police Department and the Medical Examiner notified us that they have located Chris," the family said through a spokesperson, Mark Guarino, who is a childhood friend of Woitel's. "It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you of Chris' passing. Please help us by preserving Chris' legacy in your memories. Thank you for your love and caring support through these very difficult times."
An autopsy is still pending, and as the Chronicle reports, no details have been shared about a possible cause of death. Also, there has been nothing shared about where in the building Woitel was found. The Mission Local piece previously suggested that police had already visited the apartment a week after Woitel disappeared and found nothing amiss and no signs of foul play, but there was also something about a search warrant that they had not obtained until recently, so there are plenty of unanswered questions.
The private investigator, Scott Williams, also reported that the chain lock on Woitel's apartment door was still engaged, as if he had never left. And video surveillance of a rear exit also showed no signs of Woitel on January 8 or 9.
At the time, according to friends and family, Woitel had been posting a variety of unsettling things on Facebook, exhibiting paranoia about Trump supporters descending on San Francisco following the January 6 riot in D.C., and discussing a cellphone that had gone missing and needed to be replaced. Woitel's siblings said that he had struggled with depression for years, and was most recently unemployed and living off of disability.
That cellphone allegedly turned up in the possession of a homeless man named Bood whom Woitel had befriended several years ago, and whom Williams located at an encampment in Emeryville. According to Williams, Bood claimed that Woitel sold him the phone on January 7 — on a night when Bood was seen entering Woitel's building and then exiting at 5:45 a.m. the next day. Woitel subsequently sent Bood an angry message the day before he disappeared, indicating that he was cutting him off — a friend told Mission Local that Woitel had been in the habit of buying things for the homeless man, who subsequently seemed volatile and like he might turn on Woitel. The friend also suggested that Woitel had a romantic interest in Bood that was not returned, and he had repeatedly allowed the man to stay in his apartment.
In one of Woitel's last communications with his sister, he apparently sounded paranoid and was asking for money so that he could escape the city to stay with friends "in the mountains." The friends he was referring to said they had not seen or heard from him, and the sister, Lara Haben, told Mission Local last week, "My gut feeling is something bad happened."
Why it took over a month for the SFPD to investigate thoroughly enough to find Woitel's remains is still a mystery and a cause for concern.
We'll bring you more details as we learn them.