The Mummy Down The Street


The townhouse at 9 rue Saint-Jacques in the town of Lille, in Northern France, stands out, even if you don’t know its story. Oddly narrow—about a third the width of the street’s other buildings—and built of striking red brick with a garish turquoise rolldown gate, the house sticks out like a gawky teenager in a family portrait.

The house belongs to a Spanish man named Alberto Rodríguez Martinez—well, maybe. That’s whose mail was found when French authorities discovered the dead body in the second floor bedroom. The mail—a letter from the social security office, a notice from the power company and other official communications—dated back to 1997. With no correspondence from relatives and no leads from neighbors, French authorities had no choice but to assume the body belonged to Alberto. From there, they tried to piece together what kind of life a person would have lived to have their death go undetected for more than 15 years.

From what we know, Alberto arrived in France in 1948 on a 10-year visa, which he diligently renewed in Lille each decade. He had frequented the neighborhood since the 1960s, when he was remembered as a jovial handyman who made his living doing various odd jobs.

Around that time, he became involved with Lucie Chanat, a wealthy widow 30 years his senior. No one could quite tell whether the pair were friends or more, but the relationship didn’t last long. Lucie passed away in 1971, leaving Alberto as her sole heir. She had owned a few buildings around Lille, and Alberto wasted no time in selling most of them—all but the house on rue Saint-Jacques. Alberto took residence in the building, and became regarded by neighbors as a recluse. A woman who moved into an adjacent building in 1986 told detectives he barely spoke to anyone and generally kept to himself.

Could it be that his affair with the widow, so quickly followed by her death, had sent him into an irreversible state of depression? Or could it be that he had made so much money from selling her property that he simply no longer had need to go outside to look for those odd jobs the neighborhood knew him for? Perhaps he was finally able to live comfortably, or even, his sudden wealth turned him into an untrusting old kook like so many Ebenezer Scrooges before him.

He retreated until 1991, when he decided that he would sell his skinny little art deco home. A German buyer made an offer, and Alberto was ready to accept it, but never showed up to the final signing.

That meeting was the last anyone can remember expecting to see him. His electricity was shut off in 1996, and his bank account was suspended for lack of use in 1999. Neighbors simply believed he had abandoned the home in the middle of the night, and returned to his native Spain.

Despite their best efforts, French authorities have been unable to locate any next of kin to alert of his passing. Maybe it’s best they don’t know that he was left to rot in his home for 15 years, gray striped pajamas still on, and slippers waiting at the foot of the bed for the morning that never came.


—Alix / @alixmcalpine

Artwork by Richard Colman

3 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. De JAECY

    I guess I am living the same as he, with exception of the reverse paintings that I do and fill the walls with…I have no time to die.

  2. Dear World’s Best Ever;
    Believe it…I am living the same curse of isolated breathing as I sleep alone amongst the reverse paintings I brush on canvas. They adorn the rooms of silent walls that gaze at each other and never see a human remark. De Jaecy forever….1936-201?

  3. J!nxJax

    De jaecy
    You are kidding right

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