Joseph Edward Mejica had been missing for two years by the time police found his mummified body at a construction site in Oakland, California.
In August 2020, Mejica’s mother, believed by police to be the last to see him alive, reported him missing. On March 9, 2022, police contacted her with news that his body had been recovered.
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Bureau told TODAY that his body was found mummified in a wall of the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. A construction worker discovered the body while tearing out a wall inside of the center.
In an interview with TODAY, Lieutenant Ray Kelly said Mejica’s body may have been inside the wall for a year and a half. Kelly said they believe Mejica might have ended up there after falling from the roof area above where he was found.
“Somehow, we’re not exactly sure, he either tried to climb down in there or he had some type of medical emergency or got trapped,” Kelly told TODAY. “We’re not exactly sure — that’s the big question of the day. But our examination showed that there was no sign of foul play. He wasn’t put there. There was no sign that he was the victim of a crime or anything like that.”
Unhoused and 40-years-old at the time of his disappearance, police said Mejica had a history of theft, burglary, and drug-related arrests. All were minor nonviolent felonies, not uncommon amongst homeless and unsheltered populations struggling with addiction.
"He was homeless and had some substance use issues and had been known to take copper and other precious metals from buildings," Kelly explained.
Investigators weren't able to immediately identify Mejica and ordered an autopsy, he said, and were ultimately able to figure it out based on a serial number on a metal plate in his ankle from a previous injury.
Kelly said they used that serial number to cross-check against medical records at local county hospitals. When the records were linked back to Mejica, officials confirmed his DNA and were able to find he’d been reported missing.
“Obviously at the end of the day, it’s about bringing closure to a mother that has not seen her son in two years and doesn’t know where he is and doesn’t know what happened to him,” Kelly said. “At least now she at least knows he’s been found, and we can answer those questions for her.
“So that’s really the most important part of the story is being able to go back to families compassionately, tell them what happened. At least give them a sense of what happened. And close out the anxiety that you might have (that) your adult child is out there missing.”