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Skeleton of man’s wife found in wall

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — A skeleton found walled up in a dead man’s junk-filled basement has been identified as the man’s wife, a first-grade teacher whom he reported missing more than 27 years ago.

James Nichols died of natural causes in December at the age of 82. Police found his body after neighbors said they had not seen him for days. With no relatives coming forward to claim the body or deal with the estate, county officials buried the IBM retiree and hired a contractor to clean out the house, which was stuffed with hoarded items and trash.

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On Friday, the contractor found the skeleton sealed in a plastic container behind a false wall.

The Dutchess County medical examiner’s office identified the remains Monday as those of JoAnn Nichols, based on dental records. Dr. Kari Reiber said the 55-year-old woman died from a blow to the head.

‘‘We did a complete investigation,’’ Detectives Captain Paul Lecomte said Tuesday of the response in the 1980s. ‘‘We did have some unanswered questions regarding him.’’

According to Poughkeepsie Journal archives, JoAnn Nichols taught her last day of school on Dec. 20, 1985. She did not show up for a hair appointment the next day, and that afternoon, a minister called police on James Nichols’s behalf to report her missing.

Nichols told detectives that he last saw his wife when he left for work at IBM that morning, and that he found a typed note when he got home. There was speculation that JoAnn Nichols was despondent over their only child’s drowning death three years earlier, when he was 25.

Nichols told police he found his wife’s locked car on Dec. 22, 1985, at a nearby shopping center. Then-Detective Lieutenant Charles Mittelstaedt told the paper there was no evidence of foul play.

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