Six months after woman found in Allied Gardens freezer, new info about husband

A neighbor told NBC 7 this week that Robert Haxby was hospitalized not long before out-of-town family members reported the grisly discovery to police last December

Six months after an elderly woman was found dead in a freezer in Allied Gardens — having last been seen nine years earlier — no arrests have been made by the San Diego police, nor has a cause of death been identified by the county medical examiner, but neighbors this week shared information unreported until now that may provide a window into how the discovery was made.

A neighbor told NBC 7 this week that Robert Haxby was hospitalized not long before out-of-town family members reported the grisly discovery to police last December.

The grisly find was first reported to police at year's end: Mary Margaret Haxby-Jones' body, stiff with cold, frozen in a chest freezer.

Since then, the medical examiner has had custody of her corpse. During the past half-year, NBC San Diego has reached out nearly once a month out for an update and been told the case is sealed by the San Diego Police Department. For SDPD's part during the same time period, officials have said there will be no updates on the case until the medical examiner has determined a cause of death.

An update from San Diego police

On Tuesday, NBC 7 spoke with Lt. Jud Campbell of the San Diego's Police Department's Homicide Unit, who remained tight-lipped regarding the investigation.

"A lot of work has been done on the case," Campbell said outside police headquarters building on Broadway. "The current status of everything is: We are awaiting the determination of her cause of death from the San Diego County Medical Examiner."

... this is, you know, an unusual and complicated set of circumstances, and I think anything that's complicated takes time"

San Diego police homicide Lt. Jud Campbell

Campbell demurred when asked what was taking so long to determine the cause of death.

"I can't speak for the medical examiner but I think we can all acknowledge this is, you know, an unusual and complicated set of circumstances, and I think anything that's complicated takes time," Campbell said.

The lieutenant said the cause of death will determine the investigation's direction.

"All criminal investigations have a point, an inflection point, where it can go one way or the other," Campbell said. "It could be, you know, we're waiting on a fingerprint or we're waiting on a witness to identify, and then the case goes one way or the other. In this case, we're at that inflection point where we really need to know the cause of death to go forward."

Passers-by on Zion Avenue on Thursday made a startling discovery in front of the Allied Gardens home where a body was found in a chest freezer in December.

An update from Allied Gardens neighbors

Half a year after Haxby-Jones' body was finally moved after its long interment, the topic is still front of mind for the neighbors of the home, where little, if anything has changed at the home in the 4900 block of Zion Avenue. The weeds out front have gone brown, wind rustles through the yard, sun-faded crime-scene tape and three abandoned vehicles, including Haxby-Jones maroon Prius. A pile of mail sits on the stoop, an SDG&E bill bearing the name Mary M. Jones, who would now be in her 80s if she were alive, in plain view. Nobody answered a knock.

A few doors down, a woman who asked to be identified as Patricia, was tending her yard with the sun overhead. She was sorrowful about the situation.

"It's sad," said Patricia, who met Haxby-Jones a few times and said she seemed like a very nice lady. "It's very sad. I feel so bad for Mary."

The events of Dec. 22 were shocking to Patricia.

"I remember that day," Patricia said. "The police and the ambulances. They were [carrying] everything off ... I don't know what happened. We can only assume that something personal happened in that house, really bad."

Patricia was unaware what happened to Haxby-Jones's husband, Robert "Bob" Haxby, after the body was found, but she did share some startling information about what she believes happened to Haxby, whom she would see often in the neighborhood.

A review of Google Street of the home on Zion Avenue shows a tidy lawn outside in 2008, 2009 and 2011, but in 2014, the last year Haxby-Jones is believed to have been alive, the grass had died, with what seems to be little maintenance since. Patricia told NBC 7 she thought Haxby may have hired landscapers to help out.

"He was unable, physically, I think — he couldn't do a lot of the labor around his house," Patricia said, adding later that she had said that only "because he seemed to be a little frail walking around."

Police say the woman may have been missing or dead for up to nine years. NBC 7's Amber Frias breaks down what we know, and what we don't.

Patricia said the situation inside the home in Allied Gardens began to unravel when Haxby was taken to the hospital, which she witnessed.

"There were relatives, after Bob went into the hospital, some relatives came by — if to clean the house or whatever — and that's who found the body in the freezer, when they were going around the house and that's when it all blew up," Patricia said.

Another neighbor told Patricia Bob had a stroke, information echoed by two other neighbors on Tuesday.

So, rather than a discovery made by holiday visitors, which seemed possible considering the timing, it now seems more likely out-of-town family members may have been getting clothing, feeding his exotic birds or another errand for the hospitalized Haxby.

"Probably, yeah, that would be the only reason to show up at his house if he was in the hospital," Patricia said. "I'm curious to know if he survived or not."

After the interview with Patricia, NBC 7 asked Campbell of SDPD if Haxby was still alive and was told, "At this point, we have no determination on the cause of death. Until we have a solid answer as to what happened, there’s not anything else I can share beyond our one-on-one interview and the previous press releases."

The medical examiner's office told NBC 7 on Thursday that it had no record of a recent death of a Robert Haxby in San Diego County.

Police say family members visiting from out of town discovered the body. NBC 7's Kelvin Henry has the latest details.

Who was in the house while the body was in the freezer?

Earlier this year, another neighbor, who asked NBC 7 not to publish her name, told NBC 7 she regularly observed Haxby at the home in the past nine years while Haxby-Jones was in the freezer.

The neighbor, who has been in her home for decades, said she would sometimes see Haxby-Jones sitting in the backyard. Since the body was found, the neighbor said, she hadn't seen the man she called "Bob."

The neighbor described the home as "a hoarder's paradise" and said she called the city about in the '90s "trying to do something about the rats": "The back of the house is gone. They had the birds that squawked all the time." Her stepson said this week that the back of the house was not gone but that sliding doors had been left open to the elements for years.

The Allied Gardens woman also told NBC 7 that in addition to Haxby, who neighbors described to NBC 7 as a white-haired man in 70s, another, a younger man was occasionally at the home while Haxby-Jones was missing.

"There's a son," the neighbor said. "He was there the day-of. He stayed and sat in front while the police talked to [his father]."

The front porch at Haxby-Jones' home this week, with crime-scene tape faded from the sun and a stack of unclaimed mail.

The woman told NBC 7, though, she didn't think the son lived there but had been seen a couple times at the home after the body was discovered.

Earlier this week, the information about Haxby and the couple's son being at the home while Haxby-Jones was missing was confirmed by the neighbor's stepson, who has lived with his stepmother in her Allied Garden for the past three years.

The woman said there were about 20 officers there the night the body was reported.

"… I had driven by lookie-loo," the woman said. "There was nobody behind me, so a detective guy in a suit came over and I said, 'Do I need to be afraid?' And he said no."

In fact, the woman told NBC 7 the "detective guy" laughed when she asked.

"I guess, to me, that meant the husband, Bob, was gone," she said. "It's like, 'There's nobody here to be afraid of,' was the impression I got," adding, "but he said, if we want to talk to you, we'll knock on your door. So I just left it at that."

Six months later, Campbell said the police department welcomes input from anybody who has information regarding the investigation.

"If anyone has any information they believe could be relevant, you know, we want to hear it," Campbell said. "As investigators, we get pieces of information, evidence, and sometimes, you know, it's like: 'How do these fit together?' and it could be a little bit of information from the public that helps us fit those together. So, yes, we're always open to information from the public. Please call into our homicide unit or Crime Stoppers."

Tips can be called in anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 619-235-8477.

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