Coyotes Suspected Following Discovery of Skeletal Remains

Kirt Ramirez

Are coyotes responsible for the disappearance of a local man’s remains?

The Beachcomber has published various types of articles over the years but this story is unusual. The details can be graphic and disturbing.

Terence Michael Griffin Jr. – known as Terry – who lived in the 2800 block of Hackett Ave., was remembered by five neighbors as someone who kept to himself.

He could be friendly and nice but also grumpy and cantankerous at times. He liked tennis. He didn’t have many friends and his family lived back east. His best friend was his rescued Labrador dog, Kaylee, who died in September.

Griffin, 73, worked for the FAA but was forced to retire due to age about four years ago. After that, his drinking escalated, neighbor John Murray said.

When his dog died, Griffin went downhill further. He smoked and drank heavily and reportedly followed prescription medications with alcohol or whiskey.

“The final straw was when he lost his dog, that’s just when he let go of the rope,” Murray said.

Griffin would sometimes answer the door in the nude. He looked disheveled quite a bit. A few times his pants appeared soiled when he left to buy groceries, two neighbors recalled.

Even though he had money, he struggled with paying his bills and let his mail pile up.

According to one of Griffin’s area-neighbors who knew him and tried to help him, his Mercedes was repossessed last summer for not making the payments. He got it back later.

“He was always an intelligent and responsible person,” the neighbor said, who asked that her name not be printed. “He graduated from Georgetown University and was in the U.S. Air Force.”

However, as Griffin got older, he started to let things go, she said.

The neighbor said she last talked with Griffin in late September and he said he did not feel well then. She offered to take him to the doctor but he declined the offer.

“He said, ‘I don’t want everyone thinking that they have to take care of me,’” the neighbor said.

Then in mid-December, the Mercedes went missing again. At that point the neighbor called Griffin’s maid to inquire about the situation.

The Beachcomber could not reach the maid for comment.

According to the neighbor, the maid, who cleaned Griffin’s house once per week, said she called him three weeks in a row but he said not to come.

She called on the fourth week and his phone had been disconnected, the neighbor said of her conversation with the maid.

Time passed by.

When the neighbor called the maid on Dec. 16 and learned that the maid had not seen Griffin in two to three months, the alarmed neighbor arranged to enter the house with the maid that day, fearing Griffin would not be alive.

The front door was difficult to open, as mail had piled up against it. Another neighbor joined them and they went inside and walked to the den. The sliding glass door to the backyard was wide open, which was common for Griffin, even though his dog had died a few months prior.

The neighbor said she walked to the couch and initially thought a fire had taken place, as there was a brown spot on the sofa. Then she saw a few skeletal remains.

Then they saw a human skull on the floor in the center of the room. And then it became clear other bones were scattered about.

The three got out of the house and the neighbor called 911.

Long Beach Fire and Police responded on that afternoon and pronounced death at the scene.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office noted in the case report that “Skeletonized remains were found at a residence by a maid [sic.] who called 911. Possible dismemberment by animals. Residence was not secured.”

A cause of death could not be determined from the 8 ½ pounds of remains collected. Dental records later confirmed the teeth positively matched Griffin’s.

One of the officers at the scene told the coroner investigator “they believe that the decedent passed in his residence and the resulting damage to the remains were from animal activity since the resident did not lock down or secure the residence. The area is known by police to have a heavy coyote population.”

The investigator noted the remains were scattered in the den, on the sofa and floor. The house was messy with numerous empty alcohol bottles strewn about as well. The report states there was (unknown) feces on the floor throughout the house, along with rat feces throughout the residence and bird waste on the floor in the dining room.

Did coyotes eat the dead man’s body?

“Coyotes are constantly changing their behavior here in the city,” said Theresa Hew, who runs the Facebook page Coyote Watch Long Beach, Lakewood and Bellflower.

“And why wouldn’t they eat a dead body if the door is left wide open?” she asked. “Because they can smell it way before the humans can. Their sense of smell is so great that they can smell prey 100 feet away. We know they can jump a six foot wall with no problem, they do it all the time.”

Hew said she runs a tracker based on social media reports where people have reported coyotes, “And we have activity for that (Hackett Avenue) neighborhood from September through December.”

Hew, who read the coroner’s report, noted, “He was missing ribs and bones, what other animal would carry off bones of that length and size? It’s not like we have bobcats or bears. The coyote is our largest predator around (Long Beach).”

Tim Revell, Ph.D., a coyote expert and a professor of biology at Mt. San Antonio College, read the coroner’s report and said through email:

“I have read several studies on coyote diets and I have done some scat analysis in grad school. Coyotes are incredible animals with a very, very wide range of dietary preferences. This varies by location and season and probably individual preferences.”

Revell cited an article and gave his opinion.

“It appears that in fact coyotes could eat the remains of a human. Now in this case, being in a residential area in Long Beach (if there is a ‘high’ coyote population), I think the odds of a coyote getting into someone’s house and eating human remains is quite low. 

“Other animals (ravens, crows, raccoons [and rats]) are much more abundant, mobile, and could easily be the culprits for disarticulating a human skeleton. Could a coyote have done it? I suppose it is possible but unlikely.”

Meanwhile, Griffin’s sliding glass door was open but the gate that leads to the backyard was closed. However, an opening exists next to the gate with a platform lower than the gate, where an animal can enter. Fur of some sort was found on the wall’s corner next to the platform.

During an interview with neighbors in front of Griffin’s house recently, a neighborhood cat jumped onto the platform and entered the backyard. Another cat roamed freely near the front porch.

“All we can do is imagine what went in there,” the neighbor said. “Whatever got to him picked the bones clean. They had two months.”



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