Before police found a headless torso decaying in a fish tank at the home of a missing man in the South of Market neighborhood earlier this month, officers had knocked on the door three different times to check on the man but did not enter.
Cmdr. Greg McEachern said Tuesday that the lack of “suspicious circumstances” prevented officers from finding the corpse at the home of 65-year-old Brian Egg until neighbors called 911 to report a crime scene cleaning crew at the house on Aug. 14. Egg was last seen in early June and first reported missing in late July.
“People have a right to their privacy,” McEachern told reporters at police headquarters. “We don’t just break doors down to look for individuals unless there is other information that may determine that the person either is dead or that there might be other suspicious activity.”
The news raised questions about whether the San Francisco Police Department could have found the body at 228 Clara St. sooner. Police launched a missing persons investigation when family reported Egg missing on Aug. 7, but did not enter the house until after neighbors saw the cleaning crew seven days later. The body’s discovery was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
McEachern said officers from Southern Police Station knocked on the door each time family and neighbors called police, but left when no one responded.
“It’s very chilling to think that the body was there the whole time and the police, it was literally under their noses,” said Scot Free, one of the neighbors who called police. “If this had been somebody on Nob Hill that was on the social register, I’m sure it would be different.”
Neighbors had seen people coming and going from the house in Egg’s absence, but McEachern said that “is common in many areas of San Francisco.”
Free said his neighbor would water the plants or work in front of his house before he went missing. Egg, who once worked as a bartender at The Stud, a historic gay bar in SoMa, was known to eat free lunches at St. Anthony’s Dining Room and bring homeless-looking men back to his apartment.
Free said someone had recently changed Egg’s answering machine to say that he was away on vacation. Free said the recording said, “This is Nathan and Matt, if you are calling for us, Brian will be back on August the 12th.”
Free had also recently seen a man frantically cleaning the house when Egg was not there. That same man was talking with the crime scene cleaning crew when Free and other neighbors called police, he said.
Police responded and detained the man as a person of interest in the case. Officers then entered the house for the first time and smelled cleaning products and the stench of a decaying body, according to McEachern. A cadaver dog later found the body in the fish tank in a concealed part of the house.
Police arrested Robert McCaffrey, 52, on suspicion of homicide, financial crimes and identity theft at the scene. The following day, officers arrested Lance Silva, 39, on suspicion of the same crimes at a residential hotel on Sixth Street.
But prosecutors have since declined to file charges.
“A charging decision is on hold pending further investigation,” said Alex Bastian, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office.
Silva was transferred from County Jail to Santa Rita Jail for a probation violation out of Alameda County. According to jail records, he is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment for that violation on Wednesday.
McCaffrey was released from jail, McEachern said.
Police have ongoing homicide and missing persons investigations into the case.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the name of the neighbor who called police is Scot Free.
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