SPANISH NEWS

Police stumped by discovery of body at bottom of hospital elevator shaft

The man was seen on security cameras at Madrid’s La Paz using a master key to open the lift door. No one has yet come forward to report a missing person

Madrid’s La Paz hospital, where the body was discovered.
Madrid’s La Paz hospital, where the body was discovered.EDUARDO PARRA (GETTY)

After complaints from staff and patients about a bad smell in an elevator, technicians were called in to La Paz hospital in Madrid on July 11. They made a grisly discovery: at the bottom of the shaft was the body of a man, almost decapitated due to the impact of the elevator as it made its journeys up and down the shaft. More than a week later, the National Police still have no idea who the man was or why he would have fallen to his death.

What investigators do know so far is that he died on July 2, falling into the shaft from the 12th floor. That’s according to security camera recordings, EL PAÍS has learned. So far, no member of staff from the hospital has been reported missing, nor from the maintenance firm in charge of the hospital’s elevators. The victim was carrying no ID documents, prompting police to try to take fingerprints from the badly mangled body.

The victim was carrying no ID documents, prompting police to try to take fingerprints from the badly mangled body

The man is listed as a “John Doe” at the Forensic Anatomy Institute, where his body has been for a week. No one has come to claim it, nor has anyone appeared to ask if it might be a family member of theirs. The National Police freely admit that they are facing one of the more complicated cases they have ever had in terms of identifying a victim, given the absence of details that could lead to the man’s identity.

What the authorities do know so far, thanks to security camera footage, is that the man, aged between 50 and 60 years old, was wandering around floors 12 and 13 of the main building in La Paz. At around 5am, he used a master key to open the elevator doors. That’s when the cameras lose track of him. “The problem is that the camera on the 12th floor is not in focus and you can’t see clearly what happens at the time,” police sources explain.

The man was “very slovenly or scruffily” dressed, police sources say. His body was found on the morning of July 11, when technicians arrived to investigate the smell reported by users of the elevator. At the bottom of the shaft, they found the body completely destroyed, and in an advanced state of decay. The head had practically been detached from the rest of the body. “You have to take into account the fact that the elevator was making contact with him every time it came down,” sources explain. “That caused a huge amount of damage, plus it took more than a week to find him.”

The problem is that the camera on the 12th floor is not in focus and you can’t see clearly what happens at the time

Police sources

An investigating judge and a coroner showed up at the scene, as well as police officers from the homicide department who passed the case on to their colleagues at the local precinct, after finding  no evidence of murder.

Specialists are currently trying to get a fingerprint from the man, but this will be a difficult process given the state of the body. If they do manage to extract a usable print, the man will only be identified should he have a criminal record. The National Police do not allow for their database of fingerprints supplied by people in Spain when applying for an identity card to be used in such cases, in line with data protection laws.

Police have followed lines of inquiry relating to missing persons, but so far they have not found anyone matching the characteristics of the victim found in La Paz.

Specialists are currently trying to get a fingerprint from the man, but this will be a difficult process given the state of the body

There are plenty of other questions to be resolved, too, such as: why did the man have a master key for the elevator door if he didn’t work at the hospital, and wasn’t an employee of the maintenance company? The police say that these keys can be easily bought on the internet or at hardware stores for around €3. Or the man may have been a former employee of an elevator company. “If he was a worker on active duty, one of the companies would have told us they were missing an employee,” police sources say. “What’s more, no one fixes an elevator at 5am.”

The police deny that there is any truth to rumors that the man was carrying a work order to repair the elevator, or that he had a suicide note. The theory that he killed himself, however, is the most likely hypothesis being considered by the authorities for now.

Another mystery: “It seems very strange that no one is missing this person, and that no one has gone to the police to ask about him.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

More information