Dead body case raises questions about children's welfare

It's believed that six Hamilton children lived for months in the same house as their father's decaying corpse.
Peter Wald's van can be seen in this photo taken on Google maps in 2011. The 51-year-old's body was discovered in his north Hamilton home on Tuesday. Neighbours say they believe it had been there for months. (Google)

A Hamilton crisis support worker says he believes six children who lived for months with their father's decaying corpse in their house have been traumatized by the experience.

But if the family didn't reach out for help and neighbours didn't alert social agencies, there was no way for those agencies to intervene, says Peter Kibor, director of the Good Shepherd’s Barrett Centre for Crisis Support.

The six children slipped through the hands of Hamilton’s Children’s Aid Society, which was notified of the bizarre situation too late: the family had moved on.

Neighbours say the family moved to Niagara and that area's Children's Aid Society is now trying to find the family.

The decomposing body of Peter Wald, 51, was discovered in his home on St. Matthews Avenue, off of Barton Street East, on Tuesday. An employee from a foreclosure company found the body while trying to evict Wald and his family. 

Neighbours told CBC Hamilton the Wald family had strong religious beliefs. Wald's van had religious slogans painted on it.

Dominic Verticchio, executive director of the Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton, said Hamilton police came to his agency the “day they found the body" to say a corpse was found in the Wald home with children living there.

But by the time police contacted CAS, the family had already left the city for the Niagara region. The information was passed to Niagara Children and Family Services, he said.

Neighbours told CBC Hamilton they were convinced Wald died at least four months ago. Flies were swarming around a second-floor window and birds were pecking at the screen.

“We’re looking at ‘were the children cared for?,’” Verticchio said. “As the coroner mentioned, the unbelievable odour coming from a decaying corpse, the flies and maggots, I am not sure how the family or children could stand it... It doesn’t seem like normal family living or child-rearing to me,” he said. 

"It's a very challenging situation," said Kibor.

He said there may be many underlying issues we don’t know about at this stage, so it's hard to come to conclusions.

“It makes you think if its a situation where mental [illness] existed that no one knew about,” he said.

Kibor said it could also be a case of denial that the father died, or with something to do with their religious belief system.

“Maybe with some mental health issues,” he said, “someone thought the father might resurrect from the dead one time.”

Based on the family’s unknown past, Kibor said seeking help may have been hard for the Walds.

We are so disconnected that it would be odd for a neighbour to go up to them and say ‘Are you OK? Is everything OK?’—Peter Kibor, Good Shepherd Centres

“Are they people who moved into our society with trauma in the past and maybe that in itself influences how they seek help?” he wondered. 

There are resources, Kibor said — his centre alone fields calls for help 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The problem is when people don’t reach out. Neighbours can play a big role, but it’s sometimes not easy to get involved, he said. 

“I think it’s a systemic issue where as a society. We are so disconnected that it would be odd for a neighbour to go up to them and say ‘Are you OK? Is everything OK?’ Because again, if there is not that link and we’re not able to connect, that becomes difficult.”

But even if help were to have come forward, the damage may have already been substantial, Kibor said.

“Honestly, there is no quick fix solution for them. They had the body for months,” he said. “For the children, they are traumatized. They’ve seen the body and lived with the body. They are traumatized.”

Niagara Children and Family Services had not responded to an interview request about the family at the time of publication.

Dr. John Stanborough, regional coroner for Hamilton, said the autopsy on Wald’s body is complete, said he is "not convinced we’ll have definitive information on the cause of death” because of the decomposed state of the body when it was found.

He said there is no evidence of criminality or a public health concern — death caused by infection disease, for example.

“It’s a shame that it happened,” Kibor said. “It’s a shame that we couldn’t pick up on that as a society. They must have been going out everyday, going to a grocery store and seeing people, neighbours, professionals, whoever they were hanging around with. And we did not clue into this?”