While searching for data for another question on here regarding people dying watching TV, I stumbled upon a Gizmodo article about one unfortunate Hedviga Golik, who died in front of her TV in 1966 and remained undiscovered until 2008. I tried googling her name for more information, and indeed a lot of hits turned up, but there seems to be a lot of inconsistencies between the various accounts, not least the number of years that elapsed between her dying and her being discovered with timeframes ranging from 42 years all the way down to 35, and one account saying she died in her bed instead of in front of the TV. This leads me so suspect the whole thing is an urban legend, though it's certainly true that people really have gone years undiscovered after death.
Did Hedviga Golik ever really exist, did she really die in front of her TV and did she really sit undiscovered for 42 years?
But in bed, not sitting in front of a TV. The exact date she was last seen alive is not known.
May 2008 reports
This was first reported in Jutarnji List, "a daily newspaper published in Zagreb, Croatia", on 13th May 2008. The body is alleged to have been discovered two days previously. The article's titled translates to "She lay dead in the apartment for 35 years!" The article says her body was found in her bed in the apartment.
"Must be no longer than 35 years - said Mirko Horvatić, a neighbor who was in the eighth decade of life."
A 14th May report in Zagreb newspaper Metro Portal says
"Hedwig lived in the apartment above me, and the last time I saw her in 1963 when my son was two years old. ... [said] 85-year-old Katica Caric, the oldest resident of the building, which[who] has recently been given to a nearby nursing home for the elderly".
There was a second report in Jutarrnji List a few days later on 15th May 2008. The author of the article appears to be Velibor Panić. A man by that name has a facebook profile saying that he was a reporter in 2008. Other names in the report show up in web-searches with consistent locations and professions.
These reports seem to have been picked up by Associated Press at the time and a version of the story has subsequently appeared in some English language news media at around that time.
Dates of last sighting and of death
The date of the last known sighting of the deceased woman depends on the memory of an 85 year old in a nursing home and of other people of similar age.
The two original reports give the time she lay undiscovered as 35 years and as more than 40 years - it seems to depend on which resident or other person the reporter spoke to on each occasion.
I don't read Croatian and Google's translation isn't clear enough to be sure but it may be that the last known sighting was in 1963 (45 years before 2008 reports) but there was other subsequent contact suggesting the reclusive woman didn't die at that time - it may be she communicated for a while by lowering messages in a basket from her apartment window.
It may not have been possible to identify the exact date (or year) of death.
Reasons for non-discovery
At the alleged time of death, the apartment was in communist Yugoslavia. At that time, property was state-owned. I don't know if gas and electricity to a building like this would have been metered individually per apartment in communist times - it may be plausible that it was not and that in the transition from communism this small (18 m²) apartment did not acquire a separate account with utility companies.
Essentially, the story is that the apartment in which she was found is very small and was the subject of a longstanding ownership dispute among the residents of the building. It seems that until this dispute was resolved, no-one had authority to enter the apartment.
Yes, Hedviga Golik did exist, died in her apartment and was found decades later.
According to the neighbours who found her, the woman was found in bed, in the "half-lit" room of her apartment. No TV-set has been mentioned in the news reports, such as those from Jutarnji , Nezavisne , Dalje and 24 Sata, all dated May 2008, few days after the discovery of the body. The TV-set, either turned on or off, may have been deliberately added later to the story, or likely making confusion to the case of Joyce Carol Vincent , who indeed was found in 2003, 3 years after she died, in a room with the TV-set still turned on.
Below there is a translation from an article from Nezavisne (The Independent).
ZAGREB - Neighbors found a corpse of a woman who disappeared 42 years ago in an attic in Zagreb's Medvešćak neighborhood!
Three tenant representatives broke into the locked apartment because its ownership status had to be regulated. On the bed of the bedroom they found a corpse, believed to be what was left of Hedviga Golik, born in 1924. >Although her identity card was also found in the room, the woman's identity has not yet been reliably established because the body has completely changed due to rot.
It is not known exactly how long the old woman has been dead, and tenants have stated that only recently have odors started to spread from the apartment. (Notice: in another article they stated that they sensed no smell, see below).
The deceased moved into the apartment in 1961, and it is learned from neighbors that she was inherited by the superintendent of the Hinković building, whom she was mistress of. Hanzekovic, on the other hand, received an apartment instead of a salary for the construction of a building on Medvescak 77.
All the apartments in the building where this unprecedented incident occurred belonged to the former Housing Cooperative Djuro Salaj. Hedviga Golik used to live in an attic of 69(??) square meters. The tenants knew she was gone, but they didn't look for her.
"We were afraid to get into the apartment early so as not to violate the occupancy right," say neighbours from 77, Medveščak (Street).
Those who remember her describe Hedviga as a lonely kind of woman who did not date anyone.
"I wrote to the police that the woman was no longer living there when the war started, because then we were informing the tenants what to do in case of an emergency. At that time we already knew that she was missing since 25 years", said neighbour Mirko Horvatic.
Police have been officially tracking Hedviga Golik as missing for 35 years, since 1973, when she was last seen by a neighbour who now lives in the retirement home. But Medvescak neighbors claim that Hedviga had been missing for two and a half decades in the early 1990s, meaning she had been dead in an apartment above their heads for 42 years.
Police said no evidence was found at the scene suggesting a violent death. The body was transported to the Forensic and Criminal Investigation Department.
Hedviga's body lied on the bed in the half-lit room
However, the apartment's ownership status was supposed to have been regulated this year, therefore president of the tenants organisation Sime Ungar broke into the apartment yesterday (that is, 12 May 2008) around 4 o'clock with two other neighbours.
"When we entered the half-lit room, I saw a body wrapped up on the bed. We immediately left the apartment and called the police", Ungar explained, adding that they did not smell any stench, which might have warned the tenants of the unfortunate outcome, because the windows inside the apartment were open.
Last seen with two men from a religious sect?
Hedviga's neighbour Katica Caric (58), who lived on the floor underneath, was the last person to have seen her alive, a long time ago in 1967.
"She was talking with two men then, who were likely to be members of a religious sect, just like she was. Afterwards, she simply vanished and I was convinced she left with these men", Caric told us when we visited her at the nursing home in Ibler Square.
Neighbours: She never talked to anyone, she had psychic problems.
Neighbour Caric, who knew late Hedviga best, described her as an introvert who never socialised with anyone and probably suffered from a psychic disorder.
Other neighbour share her opinion, some claimed she was a schizophrenic.
Late Hedviga allegedly worked as a nurse at the Tresnjevka Health Care Centre and neighbours mention a sister. On one occasion, Hedviga gave her the apartment in Medvescak Street, but several months later, gave up the idea.
"She also gave the apartment to a colleague from work, but again, probably because of psychic problems, she gave up on it, just like with her sister", Caric told us.
An excerpt from an article from Jutarnji : (translated)
She said she was going to leave so no one was worried about her disappearance. After all, it was unusual for neighbours. They said among themselves that he was going to a sect in Macedonia. It was 35 years ago. But Hedviga Golik did not leave. She died and her body was now found on the bed where she died.
Two days ago (11 May 2008!), the body of a dead woman was found in a building on Gupec's Star, while inspecting the building, in a loft apartment, on a staircase isolated from other apartments in the four-storey building.
Hedviga lived in an 18-square-foot apartment reportedly obtained by her lover, a housekeeper. At the time she died, she was 49 years old. (Notice: as of 1973)
The circumstances and cause of death were determined by the police and forensic medicine.
Hadn't been the three neighbors deciding to floor the building and forcibly entering the apartment, no one would probably even know that Hedviga Golik, a resident of the building at 77 Medvescak Street, was dead in her apartment.
The former nurse's body, at the age of 49, when she died in 1973, was unrecognisable and the only thing left was the stories of a woman who had no friends but whose surroundings, without knowing her, were able to conceal her death for more than three decades.
She lived alone in a miniature, 18-square-meter apartment allegedly acquired by her lover, a homemaker, as they existed in Zagreb 40 years ago. There was a gas installation in the apartment, just like electricity and water, but the gas station never made an invoice because no one was consuming them. For years everyone has been paying electricity bills, but it is unclear who could use the electricity. According to initial information, it was a man who died three months ago, a Zagreb architect.
The Bureau of Forensic Medicine explained that the corpse strikes for several months after the death, after which it mummifies.
"But if a person died in the winter and was wrapped in a blanket or well dressed, the odour of rot could be a lot less intense, especially if the air circulation was higher. After a few months, the body no longer stinks and becomes mummified", said the institute's deputy representative, Davor Strinovic, adding that it was still unclear to him that none of the neighbours had felt the smell from the apartment.
According to Croatian media, citing police source and neighbour testimonies, Hedviga Golik was born in 1924 and had a sister whom she was not speaking to. She moved to Zagreb from Rijeka in 1961 and she worked as a nurse in a nearby medical centre.
She had got the apartment from a person she was involved with, a man who appearently worked at the housing company. His position with the company is not clear, some source state it as janitor or superintendent.
Based on information from the aforementioned sources, as well as others I've stumbled upon during time, it is likely that the legal status of the apartment had never been regulated even during her life, and she may have lived there without proper residential rights. This may have been the cause she broke up with the man. However, she continued to live there until her death and practically, even longer time after that.
She might have been member of a sect or religious cult and possibly suffered from certain disorder such as schizophrenia, as her behaviour described by neighbours suggest that, but she also may have acted in an odd manner as during socialist/communist regimes, members of sects were often subjected to discrimination. Besides some episodes possibly related to her alleged mental disorder, most neighbours described her as mysterious, withdrawn, distant but polite.
She allegedly told some neighbours that she is going to leave either with other sect members or by herself, and mentioned several places such as Macedonia (now Republic of Northern Macedonia) or even Siberia or Russia. Whether or not they believed her story, upon her disappearance, everyone believed she has left the apartment for good.
During that era, blocks of apartments were built by the state and apartments were state property, and tenants were paying rent which was in most cases more than affordable to anyone. Although they were not owners, they could inherit the residential rights for an apartment and they could exchange it with another. Selling it or buying the property wasn't possible in the first place, but this situation has changed since. Obtaining an apartment, especially in a desired zone, was sometimes difficult. Hedviga Golik did obtain it with the help of her friend.
The apartment is located at the top (attic) floor of the building, being the only one at that level, therefore she had no next-door neighbours who might have be concerned of her whereabouts. The apartment is likely a studio ("garsonijera" in Croatian), consisting of a single room serving as both bedroom and living room, a kitchen (or unlikely, a living room with an open kitchen) and a very small bathroom. Given the constraints of the small space, she had likely an extensible sofa. Had she have a TV-set, the sofa would have likely be facing it so that one could confortably sit and watch TV from the sofa.
To the big surprise of some who believe that during 60's and 70's, Eastern Europe was as civilized as some places deep within the jungle, most urban residential houses had a radio set, a TV-set, a refrigerator and some other appliances.
All residences were metered at least for electricity, but many of them also for gas. In some articles they say no gas invoice has been issued as no one consumed it, but someone paid for the electricity, which was likely consumed by an appliance like a refrigerator who remained plugged in. Some other expenses were jointly paid by all tenants and it appears that another person had been paying it on her behalf after her disappearance.
There are contradicting testimonies of the date she was last seen. This is obviously because not all neighbours saw her at the same time. Most neighbours are now very old and they may not recall even the exact year they have seen her for the last time.
The media sources, citing the police investigators, state that Hedviga Golik was last seen in 1973, while other testimonies go back even further in time, in 1966 or 1967. The exact date she was last seen alive, and the date of her death, remain unknown.
There are also contradicting informations on whether a missing person complaint was filled upon her disappearance, and some sources mention the police had searched for her back in 1973, but failed to search the apartment, which was presumed to be vacant. Further requests for searching the apartment were also ignored, and the woman laid dead in there for 35 or 41-42 years.
Later years and discovery of the body
After 1991, some of Golik's neighbours sought to take ownership on Golik's apartment they believe it was vacant. They contacted the authorities in attempt to regulate the ownership of the apartment, but received no answer.
They had been jointly paying Golik's expenses for that apartment and considered each of them is entitled to at least a part of it. Their claims sometimes collided with each other's, and in 1998 one of them wrote a strange message on her front door, stating that Hedviga Golik has no heirs and until her property status is regulated, the other tenants cannot dispose of the apartment.
The message was signed "The City of Zagreb, The Commission of Census" and was given a number. The authorities denied issuing such document and delivering it in such manner, but the message allegedly kept the tenants out of Golik's apartment for ten more years.
In 2008, three tenants finally broke into the appartment on the pretext of a building maintenance, found the body and called the police. Even the exact date of the discovery varies from source to source. Most media articles, some of which were cited above, state it was 11 or 12 May 2008 (one or two days before the article was published), around 4 o'clock PM. Some others state it was "last Friday", that is, 9 May.
The police investigation concluded her death was not violent, but the cause has not been determined, given the time elapsed since her death. No foul play has been considered, but the police did not investigate suicide.
A cup of tea was found near her bed, but its contents has likely evaporated long time ago and could not be identified. Given her professional background as nurse, her state of mind as described, she had knowledge and access to medicine or substances she could use in order to commit suicide. However, no evidence supports this theory, but neither excludes it, given the time elapsed between Golik's death and discovery of the body.
Although she was sometimes depicted as an elderly lady, she was in fact 49 when she died, or even younger, allowing for an earlier date of her disappearance and death, and therefore a suspicious, though not violent death, may be taken into consideration.
Reasons for non-discovery
Given the description of the body, she was wrapped in a blanket and was well dressed, a condition consistent with a period of colder weather. The windows were partially open, providing enough ventilation and preventing any odour of a rotting corpse to spread. After some month, the corpse became mummified and no longer smelled.
According to Zagreb Institute of Forensic Medicine, this is the explanation of no one feeling any bad smell from the apartment.
The description of the "half-lit room" is likely consistent with a room with curtains shut, and not with a lighting source that could have been observed by someone from the window during all the time it stood on.