Tenderloin hotel tenants fearful after man dies suspiciously, woman’s body rots for several months

In the past 8 months, two bodies have been found at the Crosby Hotel at 516 O'Farrell St. in the Tenderloin. (Michael Ares/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Two suspicious deaths this year at a Tenderloin residential hotel have left residents fearful and traumatized.

Sheldon Smith, 48, was found dead last week inside his room at the Crosby Hotel, according to police. His body was reportedly discovered Thursday within 24 hours of his death from blunt force trauma.

In February, 56-year-old Julie Mann died in her hotel room. Her body wasn’t discovered until April 17. The stench of her decomposing body crept through the hotel at 516 O’Farrell Street for some 57 days before her corpse was finally found.

The two deaths have raised questions about the Episcopal Community Services management practices at the building.

“It’s the angst. It’s the anger. It’s the uncaring and bumbling ways of the people who are given money by The City to take care of us,” said Mel Malvar, a 4-year tenant of the hotel.

But Kenneth Reggio, executive director of The City’s Episcopal Community Services, said two wellness checks were performed by employees in February when Mann first went missing. Another was reportedly conducted in mid-March to no avail.

“The whole thing should have set off red flags,” said Reggio. “In retrospect, you say, ‘How can this not have been discovered?’”

Mann’s death has not been treated as a homicide, and police remain tight-lipped about the ongoing investigations of both incidents.

Sheldon Smith

Smith’s body was found when an employee conducted a welfare check on the elusive tenant around 9 a.m. on Thursday.

“He just goes about his business,” said Malvar, who lives about 30 feet away from Smith’s unit on the second floor. “I maybe saw him like twice in the last two years. I can’t even recognize him if you show me his picture. Not a lot of people knew about him.”

Police and the Medical Examiner arrived about an hour after the body was found.

One or two nights before Smith’s body was discovered, his next door neighbor reportedly heard moaning coming from the victim’s room but did not report it because he can barely walk, Malvar said.

Police initially reported Smith’s death as a homicide last week. However, the case is now being investigated as a suspicious death.

Julie Mann

Before she died in February, Mann had “many friends in the building” and panhandled on the streets for money, according to Malvar.

Mann was last seen Feb. 17 by a neighbor who lived across from her and saw her every day. Mann’s dog continued to bark after she died. Someone went into the room and let the dog out, but Mann’s body was left behind.

Irma Lewis-Epps, 60, a tenant for more than four years, said Mann’s body “had been stinking for weeks.” She also said she told management about the smell and that the dog had been “completely freaking out.”

Malvar said he quit using the elevator near her room because it smelled like “decaying garbage.”

“There was a pet that had been in the unit,” said Reggio. “There was food that had been left. It was assumed that the odor was coming from there.”

On March 9, the Episcopal Community Services filed a missing person’s report for Mann after calling the local jails, hospitals and morgues in search of her. Mann’s room was locked up on an 18-day seal in mid-March and, when reopened in April by employees reclaiming the unit, her body was found underneath debris, clothing and newspapers, Reggio said.

“We do a lot of things right,” Reggio said. “This is one of those things we didn’t do right.”

Jonah Owen Lamb contributed to this story.

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