Woman found dead in Belk department store Monday evening, last seen on Thursday

The woman hadn't been seen since Thursday.
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 9:58 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 9:23 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Wednesday the Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher said 63-year-old Bessie Durham was found dead shortly after 8 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 19.

Durham’s body was located inside a public restroom at the Belk department store. Surveillance footage showed her entering the bathroom on Sept. 15, at around 7 a.m., and was not seen exiting.

An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22 at MUSC in Charleston. Fisher said foul play is not suspected at this time.


A 63-year-old woman named Bessie Durham, who worked as a janitor at the Belk department store was found dead inside the department store’s public bathroom.

Police say Durham was last seen on Thursday by another employee but her body had not been discovered until Monday night.

For four days, Durham’s body went unnoticed inside a public restroom during a busy shopping weekend. WIS spoke to a few people in the area today, and they’re asking the same questions we are asking...which is how.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Beverly Stroman who lives in Columbia.

That’s the reaction from people who were shopping near the mall Tuesday afternoon after learning a woman died in the department store’s bathroom Monday night.

“I was just there yesterday... if I’d gone in the restroom, which I usually do a lot, you know, I don’t know, that’s just terrible,” said Wheeler.

Deputy Chief Melron Kelly with the Columbia Police Department says the family of Durham had not spoken to her for four days and actually went to the station to file a missing person’s report.

“We were with the family taking a missing person’s report, and once we were on scene and did a little investigating, we did discover the person deceased at the Belk,” said Deputy Chief Melron Kelly, Columbia Police Department.

Belk issued the following statement:

First and foremost, we send our deepest condolences to the family of the housekeeping associate who was employed by KBS, which provides cleaning services at our Columbiana Centre location. At this time, we are working with KBS to determine the details around what happened. We have also made counselors available to Belk and KBS associates seeking support.

“You wonder why the customers didn’t see it and report it, but you would think, the employees if she’s still on the clock, would know that and go and check to see where she was,” said Stroman.

And that’s what the police are investigating, why and how no one noticed Durham, but with the investigation in its early stages, criminal charges could still be a possibility.

“We’re still working with the store to find out what their process is to closing down the store, inspecting the store and things of that nature,” said Deputy Chief Kelly.

Chief Kelly says they’ll continue to work with the employers and the mall to confirm when Durham was last seen, and they’ll be working with the Lexington County Coroner to determine when exactly she died.

WIS did speak with the coroner who told us there were also no indications of drug use. An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.

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