The medical examiner later ruled that the Pema Hristov died of natural causes, although the disheveled condition of her undergarments and the blood apparently from her head wound initially led police to suspect sexual abuse and murder, a police spokesman said.
But the city medical examiner determined that Hristov died of a heart attack, which caused her to fall and injure her head, a spokeswoman for the office said.
Police said the woman's daughter-in-law called 911 at 7:10 p.m. after discovering her body in the trash compactor room of the six-story brick apartment building at 41-15 50th St., where she lived with her son and his family.
EMS units declared Hristov, who neighbors described as sweet, grandmotherly and hardworking, dead at the scene.
A police spokeswoman said she had been discovered with her underwear "disarrayed" but indicated that the investigation would not proceed until a definitive ruling from the medical examiner.
With the ruling that the woman had died of natural causes, family members and residents of the Woodside apartment building where Hristov lived for more than two years could mourn without fearing that a killer is on the loose.
"If she was killed, it's scary," said resident Helen Moore before it was ruled that the death stemmed from natural causes.
On Tuesday afternoon, a package of white flowers sat in front of the door to Hristov's apartment, which she shared with her son; her daughter-in-law, who neighbors said was a nurse; and two grandchildren.
No one answered the door, but longtime next-door neighbor Sachiko Hirata said she was saddened by Hristov's death.
"We are very shocked about it because she's kind of a sweet grandmother," said Hirata, a Japanese student who has lived in the building for three years.
Conversation was difficult, Hirata said, because Hristov spoke no English. But, Hirata said, "she always smiled."
Several other neighbors who were gathered outside the building Tuesday said they often saw Hristov around the building helping to remove trash and cleaning. She was assisting her son Chris, the building's superintendent, maintain the apartment complex while he worked during the day.
"I saw the son crying this morning," said one resident of the building.
Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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