Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Sexual Abuse of Elderly Woman Was Investigated Days Before Her Death

An 83-year-old woman whom Harrisburg police found dead in the basement of her N. 13th Street home last Thursday was named only two weeks prior in a civil action alleging she was being sexually abused, court records show.

The action, initiated by the Dauphin County Area Agency on Aging, states that the agency is “strongly of the opinion” that Peggy Swann, of 107 N. 13th St., was “engaged in intimate acts” which may or may not have been consensual.

At a city hall briefing Monday morning, police had confirmed some details of the case, but declined to mention the alleged abuse, saying only that they had reasons to view her death as suspicious. But the director of the county agency, when presented later with information from the court documents, confirmed his staff had been working with law enforcement in the days before the discovery of Swann’s body.

The agency’s petition identifies David Barksdale as a resident of the house along with Swann. It notes that Barksdale, as well as other “unknown persons” at the address, denied an agency caseworker access to the property.

The agency “cannot emphasize enough that in response to the Agency’s representation of an investigation of sexual abuse, the denial of access to Peggy Swann constitutes a ‘red flag’ that cannot be ignored,” the court petition says.

The petition, dated June 11, also notes that Swann was believed to be a “mentally incapacitated older adult,” and that she had “uncharacteristically been missing” from her residence for two nights prior to the court filing.

Robert Burns, the agency director, would not go into detail about the case, citing confidentiality rules. But he did say that, in general, the agency would not initiate a court action without something substantial indicating a report of abuse warranted investigation.

“We’re in close contact with law enforcement and sharing what we learned,” Burns said.

Earlier on Monday, Harrisburg police Capt. Deric Moody had confirmed that Swann’s body was badly decomposed when it was discovered by police in the basement of the N. 13th St. home. An initial autopsy was performed early Monday morning, he said, but the body was going to be sent to Erie for a more extensive analysis, which could take anywhere from one to eight months. He estimated Swann had been deceased for around two weeks when her body was found.

“There are some things that haven’t made sense,” Moody said of the death, which was being investigated as a potential homicide. “To be there that long with no one smelling it…we haven’t got a good explanation yet.”

According to county property records, Barksdale and Swann have co-owned the property since June 2006, when Swann added Barksdale, identified as “a single man,” to the deed.

This story has been updated for style and to provide additional information.

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