The story of the mummified body discovered inside a wall at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland has taken a turn for the less dramatic, and perhaps more tragic.
On Wednesday we learned that construction workers who are just beginning a major adaptive reuse project at the old convention center by Lake Merritt had found a semi-preserved corpse inside one of the walls they were demo-ing. Police investigators and the county coroner have done some quick work, and while we may not know the identity of the deceased person for some time, there is a bit more information that makes this unlikely to be a sensational-type crime story.
Lt. Frederick Shavies announced via Twitter video Thursday that investigators believe that foul play was not a factor in the death. The age and race of the victim are still not known, but we now know that it was a man, and that he likely died between three and five years ago, likely on site near where the body was found.
"Based on the [position] the victim’s body was found in, this tragic death was most likely an accidental death caused by positional asphyxiation due to compression from the small space," Lt. Shavies said. Also, "Markings and biological evidence at the top of the opening indicate the victim may have been deceased near the top, and over time his body slowly decayed and slipped toward the bottom of the cavity space."
OPD is investigating an unidentified decayed body that was found by contractors working inside the Henry J Kaiser Center, on March 9, 2022, at 1:00 PM.— Oakland Police Dept. (@oaklandpoliceca) March 10, 2022
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Homicide Section at (510) 238-3821 or the TIP LINE at 238-7950. pic.twitter.com/ZKkCqGAmp4
This explanation is confusing without a visual aid, but it sounds like we may be talking about a homeless person who was squatting in the abandoned convention center and who somehow met his end by falling into this wall cavity from above.
The historic building, we know, has been out of use and largely abandoned for the better part of 17 years.
Lt. Shavies further explained that there were no signs of trauma on the remains, and the person's limbs were not bound. Police are therefore not pursuing this as a case of foul play.
On Wednesday, Lt. Ray Kelly with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office told NBC News of the body, "Any theory is possible. It could be anything from someone who got in behind the wall and became trapped and died, to someone put the person there. God only knows."
The county medical examiner will now perform an autopsy and dental exam, and eventually we may know the man's identity. Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Oakland police’s homicide unit at 510-238-3821, or call the tip line at 510-238-7950.
The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center was built in 1914, and as SFist discussed Wednesday, the building's long history includes serving as a makeshift hospital during the 1918-19 flu pandemic.
KPIX had a piece last night about how the discovery of the body was bringing new attention to the building and the many things that happened there over the last century, including an Elvis concert, many Grateful Dead concerts, and a 1962 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The 1,500-seat theater and 5,000-seat arena space are now under renovation, and Orton Development is turning it into a performance venue in cooperation with the city.