On October 31, 2013 at 2:30 p.m., a housekeeper at Lakeview Park in Fenton discovered the body of 77-year-old Shirley Neumann. Neumann, who used a walker and a cane to walk around, had fallen from her third-floor balcony.
Vertical bars in the balcony railing were damaged, but the horizontal bars appeared undisturbed.
“I find it very unlikely that this is an accidental fall and there`s a couple different reasons for that,” retired Detective Mike Guzy said.
Guzy, a former St. Louis Police Homicide Detective Sergeant, has investigated hundreds of deaths. He agreed to review Shirley Neumann’s death with the understanding he’s not second-guessing the St. Louis County investigation ruling it an accident.
Guzy reviewed scene photos and the autopsy. He noticed Neumann’s body temperature showed 98.8 degrees.
“She wound up dead on that lawn not long before she was discovered,” he said.
Guzy was struck by the amount of Ambien detected in Neumann’s blood, along with a muscle relaxer. But it’s the broken railing that sticks out the most.
“You certainly wouldn’t expect a—quote unquote—‘neat exit’ on an accidental fall,” he said. “Normally, if you see something like this, the whole railing gave way because it wasn’t properly moored to its surroundings.”
Guzy said he believes the damage took a tremendous amount of force.
“If she actually went through there with sufficient force to break this, she would’ve damaged the lower moorings on the horizontal bar as well,” he said.
Guzy then discussed the vertical bars and the uniformity in the way they’re bent. He doesn’t think a falling body would bend the bars in the manner pictured.
“If you look at where the damage is to four of the poles it’s right at about the level where a human being standing at the top rail and kicking out would hit that pole,” he said. “So if you dislodge them from their moorings, which you can see there, by kicking them one at a time, they’d pop out—theoretically—and then they’d all have, as the photos indicate, fairly uniform damage.”
“The easiest explanation to explain how all this happened is somebody kicked those railings out and then they threw the body out there.”
Guzy used the word “they” because he believes it would take the strength of two people to move someone of Shirley Neumann’s 218-pound body.
“I can’t say that happened. I can just say that is consistent with the physical evidence I’ve reviewed,” he said.
The police report does not show anyone who heard or saw something. There’s no video surveillance and police did not interview Hupp, the last person to report seeing Shirley Neumann alive.
In her only interview with Fox 2 News about the subject—from her at her doorway in January 2014—Hupp said she didn’t believe the railing was very strong.
“The bars going up and down are hollow aluminum, decorative. There’s not, uh, they’re not welded in. They’re popped in,” she said.
“So if you wanted to, I would suppose, it might take a little bit, but it’s not like they’re welded in. They’re not hard. They’re hollow; they’re maybe this big,” Hupp said, holding her two fingers about an inch apart.
Guzy added this as he continued looking at scene pictures from Neumann’s death, “For her to have enough momentum to trip and wind up through this thing, she’d have to be running through the house to get through the back door to hurl herself at this uh barrier, which I just find incredibly improbable.” Fox 2 News will test a similar railing Monday night at 10 p.m. It will be a dynamic test, putting 218 pounds in motion against a fence like the one on Neumann’s balcony.
Hupp’s attorney, Nick Williams, did not respond to a request for comment. After Hupp’s recent arraignment, he said Hupp was concerned about “sensational attention” that could distract from her pleas of innocence in the Gumpenberger case.