A woman found dead in a Belk department store on Monday evening, last seen on Thursday

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) — On Wednesday, Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said Bessie Durham, 63, was found dead shortly after 8 p.m. on Monday, September 19.

Durham’s body was found in the public restrooms of the Belk department store. Surveillance footage showed her entering the bathroom on September 15, around 7 a.m., and was not seen coming out.

An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday, September 22 at MUSC Charleston. Fisher said foul play is not suspected at this time.


A 63-year-old woman named Bessie Durham, who worked as a janitor at the Belk department store, was found dead in the department store’s public restroom.

Police say Durham was last seen on Thursday by another employee, but her body was not discovered until Monday evening.

For four days, Durham’s body went unnoticed in a public toilet during a busy shopping weekend. WIS spoke to a few people in the area today, and they’re asking the same questions we’re asking…which is how.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Beverly Stroman, who lives in Columbia.

That’s the reaction of people shopping near the mall on Tuesday afternoon after learning that a woman had died in the department store’s bathroom on Monday night.

“I was just there yesterday…if I had gone to the bathroom, which I often do often, you know, I don’t know, it’s just terrible,” Wheeler said.

Columbia Police Department Deputy Chief Melron Kelly said Durham’s family had not spoken to him in four days and had in fact gone to the station to file a missing person report.

“We were with the family taking a missing person’s report, and once we were on the scene and did a little investigation, we found the deceased person at the Belk,” Deputy Chief Melron said. Kelly, from the Columbia Police Department.

Belk released the following statement:

First and foremost, we send our deepest condolences to the family of the housekeeping associate who was employed by KBS, which provides cleaning services at our Columbiana Center location. At this time, we are working with KBS to determine the details of what happened. We have also made advisors available to Belk and KBS associates looking for support.

“You wonder why customers haven’t seen it and reported it, but you’d think the employees, if it’s still on the clock, would know and go check to see where it was,” said Stroman.

And that’s what the police are investigating, why and how nobody noticed Durham, but with the investigation in its early stages, criminal charges could still be a possibility.

“We’re still working with the store to find out what their process is for closing the store, inspecting the store and things of that nature,” Deputy Chief Kelly said.

Chief Kelly says they will continue to work with employers and the mall to confirm when Durham was last seen, and will work with the Lexington County Coroner to determine when exactly she died.

WIS spoke with the coroner who told us there were no indications of drug use either. An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.

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