Man faces charges after father found dead in barrel

A Westmoreland County man was charged Tuesday with abuse of a corpse and identity theft after his father was was found dead inside a large plastic barrel in their East Vandergrift home, police said.

Officers discovered the body of David F. Thomas, 59, inside a blue 55-gallon drum, covered by a lid, in the basement of 301 Kennedy Ave., Vandergrift police Chief Joseph Caporali said.

The man’s son, David J. Thomas, 31, was charged with felony counts of identity theft and access device fraud, as well as abuse of a corpse, a misdemeanor. He is being held in the Westmoreland County Prison in lieu of $55,000 bail, awaiting a July 8 preliminary hearing.

Police questioned Mr. Thomas this afternoon at the Vandergrift police station. He told police that he hid his father’s body because he wanted his father’s check to continue coming, had no other income and used the excess money, after paying bills, to purchase drugs for his addiction, according to a criminal complaint that Westmoreland County Detective John Clark filed. Mr. Thomas told police that, since his father died, he had withdrawn $500 at a time from the man’s S&T Bank account, totaling about $3,400, the detective wrote.

Officers first went to the home about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, after a neighbor asked police to check on him, Det. Clark wrote. The neighbor hadn’t seen the man in several weeks and noted that his son had a blue barrel delivered to the home about June 10 or 11, the complaint states.

When police arrived, they smelled a bad odor coming from inside the home when the younger Mr. Thomas opened the door, the criminal complaint states. The son told police his father was at a VA hospital, which police determined to be untrue, Det. Clark wrote. The man later told police his father might have left town with a friend.

The younger Mr. Thomas invited officers into the home to locate his father’s medications, identification and contact information for the friend, Det. Clark wrote.

“While walking through the house, the odor became stronger as they went into the basement,” he wrote in the complaint.

While in the basement, they saw the barrel with a lid clamp on it. The younger Mr. Thomas told police it contained personal items he’d gotten from his grandmother. He then opened the barrel, and the odor became stronger, Det. Clark wrote. Mr. Thomas then showed police items in the barrel, but as he was handling it, it toppled over, he wrote.

“Part of the body of Dave F. Thomas slid out onto the basement floor,” the detective wrote.

When police questioned the son, he said he took care of his father for several years. When his father died, he first put him in a blanket in the basement but then ordered the barrel with his father’s bank card, the complaint states. The elder Mr. Thomas’ body was still inside the barrel at about 5 p.m. while investigators awaited a removal company. An autopsy that will determine his cause and manner of death is scheduled for 9 a.m. today.

Lexi Belculfine: or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. Molly Born: or 412-263-1944. Madeline Conway: First Published June 24, 2014 12:00 AM


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