belk, lawsuit

Family Of Woman Found Dead In Belk Department Store Restroom Files Lawsuit

Bessie Durham’s family is suing the Belk department store in Columbia, South Carolina, after the 63-year-old was found dead in the bathroom of the store four days after she was reported missing in 2022.

According to the Associated Press, Durham’s family members and their lawyers held a joint press conference on Sept. 20 to announce the lawsuit on the one-year anniversary that Durham’s body was found in the restroom. Durham, a Black elderly woman, suffered a heart attack while working for KBS, a company Belk subcontracted to perform cleaning services. It is assumed that Durham died from a heart attack while cleaning the restroom, but her body was left in the locked bathroom while her cleaning cart remained outside it for four days.

Attorney Chris Hart, one of the lawyers representing Durham’s family, raised questions about why Durham’s body was allowed to remain in the bathroom for so long.

“They didn’t ask if Bessie was OK. They didn’t ask why hasn’t this cart moved in four days,” Hart said. “They asked why aren’t the bathrooms being cleaned.”

Interestingly enough, KBS is not named in the lawsuit, though according to Hart the family will also pursue litigation against it. The lawsuit holds Belk responsible for not making sure its employees performed a check on Durham. The lawsuit does not specify the dollar amount the family is seeking, but it does establish that Durham’s body had already started to go through the early stages of decomposition when it was discovered on Sept. 20, 2022.

Another attorney representing the Durham family, Justin Bamberg, told the Associated Press, “This family should have had the opportunity to say goodbye the right way instead of having to sit at the funeral and smell the decomposing body of someone they cared about.” 

The Lexington County Coroner’s Office did an autopsy and discovered that Durham died of natural causes. It agreed with the family that Durham had been dead inside the restroom for four days before her body was found. The lawsuit alleges that the store was negligent by not thinking to check on Durham, as her cart had not been moved from outside the restroom. The suit also argues that the company had no restroom inspection procedures. This problem, according to the lawsuit, was made worse by a store policy enacted after a shooting at the store that required the bathroom door to be locked. This in turn created a situation where Durham’s body decomposed quickly due to the hot and moist environment of the department store bathroom.

Durham’s daughter, Sylvia Smith, spoke to CBS News 19 about her family’s motivation behind the lawsuit, telling the outlet, “She was a loving mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, and wife. We’re all just wanting ownership to be taken.”

Another of Durham’s daughters, Sheniki Jeter, told CBS News 19 about her mother’s body’s condition at the funeral.

“We couldn’t even view the body. We didn’t have any last moments, we couldn’t see her smile, we couldn’t see how beautiful she was,” Jeter said.

According to Jeter, the family is seeking justice so that what happened to Bessie Durham will never happen to anyone else.

RELATED CONTENT: 44-Year-Old Professional Bodybuilder Cedric McMillan Dies of Heart Attack While Working Out On Treadmill