Fatally Flawed: When elderly die in NC, few questions asked

When Virginia Gregg died at home, investigators blamed old age. Gregg was 88 and had health problems. She could no longer drive. A widow, she lived alone in a little white house on Plainview Road in west Charlotte.

"They said she was found in the closet," said her brother, Robert Cooke. "I knew good and well somebody had killed her or something."

Because there was no obvious sign of foul play, and despite abrasions on her nose and neck, a Mecklenburg County medical examiner ruled Gregg died of natural causes. It was only after her family discovered someone used her credit card that the investigation was reopened and an autopsy performed.

Her brother was right. Gregg was strangled.

An Observer investigation found that while a handful of jurisdictions recognize the elderly as a vulnerable population whose deaths warrant special attention, North Carolina does not. Even when deaths are suspicious, sudden, violent or unattended – the types of cases medical examiners are called on to investigate – there’s typically far less scrutiny. The treatment of deaths involving the elderly is part four of the Observer's Fatally Flawed series.

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Read the full "Fatally Flawed" series at www.charlotteobserver.com/examiners/