A 42-year-old man who was known to frequent homeless encampments in Oakland and who was reported missing in August 2020 was the person who met with misadventure inside the abandoned Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center by Lake Merritt.
The body that was found by a construction worker last month and was initially described as "mummified" because of its state of apparent preservation inside a wall has finally been identified by the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau as Joseph Edward Mejica. Mejica was last seen alive on August 22, 2020 in the vicinity of Sixth and Fallon streets in Oakland.
After not being able to contact him, Mejica's mother reported him missing, saying he was known to frequent homeless camps in Oakland and that he would occasionally steal copper wire from construction sites to sell for cash — a detail that might provide a clue as to what he was after in the empty convention center property.
Mejica's mother later offered a $5,000 reward for information about her son's wherabouts.
As the Chronicle first reported Monday, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office was able to conclusively identify Mejica via a tubular plate he had in his ankle — the serial number from which able to be cross-referenced at Highland Hospital. A DNA ample further confirmed Mejica's identity.
"This is a very unique investigation for us, in that the person was listed missing and found well over a year later," Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern told the Chronicle in a statement. And, Ahern said, given the state of decomposition, "we were fortunate to make an identification."
An initial estimate by coroner's investigators suggested that the remains had likely been inside the wall for three to five years, and that foul play was not suspected.
The best guess now is that Mejica fell from a high point in the building and somehow became trapped between an inner and an outer wall. The body then likely slowly slid downward into the wall gap as it decomposed.
It seems likely that Mejica was by himself in the building at the time, otherwise someone might have told authorities he was trapped in there.
A construction worker with Orton Development, Inc., which just days or weeks earlier had begun demo-ing interior walls in the historic convention center, discovered the body on March 9, 2022.
Orton won a contract with the City of Oakland in 2015 to redevelop the convention center as a performance venue, which it will then lease back to the city. Had the construction gotten underway on schedule in 2020, Mejica may never have had the chance to be rooting around inside.