NEWTON — A 65-year-old man was allegedly bludgeoned to death with a hammer by a former tenant who is accused of stealing $40,000 by forging the victim’s name on checks, authorities said Wednesday.
The body of Leonard J. Garber was found inside the two-family home he owned at 6-8 Mount Vernon Terrace after his family had reported him missing Monday. Police searched his home that day without success. During a second search on Tuesday, police found his body wrapped in a curtain and hidden under heavy construction materials, prosecutors said.
“It appears the body had been there for some time and had been placed in such a way to conceal it from people coming into the home,” said Middlesex DA Marian T. Ryan during a briefing Wednesday.
The former tenant, Xiu Fang Ke, 43, is charged with Garber’s murder. Ke pleaded not guilty at her arraignment in Newton District Court Wednesday afternoon and was ordered held without bail. Ke had previously lived at another residence that Garber owned, Ryan said.
Her next court date is slated for Oct. 31.
According to a Newton police report filed in the case, on Sept. 27, officers searched Garber’s home, accessed his Nest camera security system, and viewed activity going back to Sept. 22.
Garber could be seen walking into his home on Sept. 22 at 6:13 p.m. The camera captured an image of an Asian woman at about 10 p.m., the report said.
“From that point on, Leonard Garber is not seen exiting the property,” the report said.
The same Asian woman is seen again entering the residence on Sept. 24 at 7:46 a.m., wearing a blue surgical mask and what appeared to be clear food service gloves and carrying a brown paper bag, the report said.
She left at 8:28 a.m. carrying a green bag, police said.
Police said there was a search of the residence on Sept. 27, and on the way out, an officer saw what appeared to be blood stains in the hallway near the entry door. The officer smelled what he believed could be decomposition, the report said.
“As I neared the door I looked down and noticed what looked like a comforter type sheet wrapped around what I thought could be a human body,” the report said.
Police later determined Garber’s body was wrapped in the sheet, the report said.
Ke was contacted and asked to come to Newton police headquarters Tuesday. During an interview, she admitted she stole the checks from Garber and had killed him with a hammer, the report said. She also admitted to hiding his body where police found it in the home.
Ryan said that Garber discovered last weekend that $40,000 was missing from one of his accounts and told an acquaintance he planned to confront Ke about the missing money. Ke has allegedly been forging Garber’s signature on checks and cashing them, Ryan said.
On Tuesday, police received a call from Garber’s brother, Ed, who said Garber had been reported missing and he was looking for an update. Police told him officers had performed well-being checks at Garber’s home, but Garber had not been located.
Police asked if Garber’s brother could locate him from financial records. Garber and his brother share a Citizens Bank account because they co-own several rental properties.
Police contacted Citizens Bank, and a bank representative told investigators that she believed there had been forged checks written out from the joint account, according to the police report. The bank representative told police she found five checks with signatures that did not match Garber’s signature, including one that was written in the name of Ke’s daughter.
A homicide investigation is rare.
There hasn’t been a murder in Newton since 2009, according to the city.
At the scene on Mount Vernon Terrace Wednesday around 1 p.m., police investigators could be seen walking around the circa-1880 two-family home that was owned by Garber since 1999, according to city records.
Ron Cohen, 71, who lives next door, said his wife would discuss real estate with Garber.
“He was a nice guy. ... I mean, he had a lot of handymen who would come over all the time to help out. He would give us recommendations,” Cohen said.
In Nonantum, Sahara Albayrak, 44, who lives next door to Ke’s Chapel Street home, said Ke was always very nice and sweet.
She expressed sympathy for Ke’s two high school-aged daughters.
“This neighborhood, it’s like one of the safest neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s weird how people can actually do this all of a sudden.”
Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed.