81-year-old’s body was in Overland Park house 6 years. Family thought he was still alive.

Janet Carroll says there was always some reason why her uncle could not come to the phone.

He was sick. He was eating. He was heading out of town.

In his 80s and geographically removed from many family members, Mike Carroll’s absence did not raise eyebrows. And it still made sense that he couldn’t visit during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Then, about two years ago, the family stopped being able to get Mike Carroll’s daughter and son-in-law, both in their 60s and who lived with him and cared for him, to pick up the phone. Janet Carroll, of Russell, Iowa, says her cousin was typically the person who answered when loved ones called.

The family had no reason to believe he was not being looked after, she told The Star by phone on Wednesday. But about a month ago, she said they were shocked by news that his body was found in his house — and that he had been dead for six years.

“We were denied contact with him,” said Janet Carroll, of Russell, Iowa. “And now we know why.”

On Oct. 23, Overland Park police were called to the 11800 block of West 99th Terrace concerning a person dead inside a home.

Detectives opened a suspicious death investigation and later determined through an autopsy conducted by the Johnson County Medical Examiner that the elderly man died in 2016 — roughly six years before the report was made. A criminal investigation was later initiated by the Social Security Administration.

Janet Carroll said another relative spoke directly to investigators concerning the situation as the administration investigates possible benefits fraud. And they’re still waiting for answers.

“This is bizarre. We don’t know what to make of all of it,” she said. “We’re just as lost as everybody else as to why this happened.”

Janet Carroll, of Russell, Iowa, said her uncle was close with the family before they lost contact years ago. She described her uncle as funny and a bit “ornery,” proud of his Irish heritage and quick to pull someone’s leg or get a laugh out of them.

He grew up on Iowa farm and moved to the Kansas City area decades ago, she said, working with Bell Telephone Company. He lived in Overland Park since around the 1970s with his wife Margaret, she said, until she died in 2002.

His adult daughter and son-in-law had long lived in his Overland Park home — a house she said was always clean and neat.

Over the years, Janet Carroll said her cousin — her uncle’s son — relocated with family to Florida. He died in 2020, she said, never knowing that his father had passed away.

Since learning of his death, his out-of-state family members also became aware his remains were cremated. They’ve yet to plan a service or publish an obituary for him, his niece said.

“He has a family that misses him,” Janet Carroll said. “And we wish we could have missed him when he left.”