A man has been charged with a number of offences in relation to the death of west Belfast pensioner Maire Conlon.
However, the 23-year-old has been released by police unconditionally in relation to the suspicion of murder.
It’s thought Marie Conlon’s body may have lain undiscovered for more than two years.
Her family said they tried to contact her numerous times and never suspected she had died. Police forced entry into the 68-year-old’s apartment in Larkspur Rise last Friday night after being alerted to concerns for her safety.
Yesterday afternoon, the PSNI said she was found in her bed and may have died more than two years ago.
After a post-mortem examination indicated her death may have been suspicious, a 23-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of a number of offences including murder.
He has been charged with offences related to theft, fraud, burglary and preventing the lawful burial of a body and is due to appear at Belfast Magistrates Court on November 6.
As is normal procedure all charges will be reviewed by the PPS. He has been released unconditionally in relation to the suspicion of murder.
“Forensic examinations continue to establish the cause of death,” police said in a statement.
Ms Conlon’s family said in a statement they were “shocked and heartbroken to learn about the loss of our beloved sister”.
“The tragic circumstances of her death make it all the more difficult to comprehend and accept,” they added.
“Marie was very much loved by her family and will be mourned greatly.
“She was a very independent person. Numerous attempts had been made to contact her in person, and by other means, over the course of the past two years, but at no point were suspicions raised that she had died.
“It is only with hindsight that the unimaginable now seems possible.
“We have been working closely with the PSNI to bring this devastating situation to an end.
“We hope and pray that justice will be done and ask for privacy as we grieve the loss of our sister.”
Detective Chief Inspector Alan Dickson said the last known sighting of Ms Conlon was in January 2015.
Based on medical evidence, it is believed she may have died around this time.
It’s also understood a neighbour’s flat has been searched as part of the police investigation.
Sinn Fein MLA Alex Maskey said Ms Conlon came from a close-knit family in the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast.
“It’s very sad a person has ended their days in this nature and I know the family have been quite distressed by it all,” he added.
“It’s like a double trauma. Not only have they lost a sister and aunt, but there may also have been a murder involved. Your heart goes out to them.
“Given the fact it’s such a close-knit family, it will be particularly sad as they haven’t seen her for quite a while, even though they wanted to.”
Mr Maskey also said he could partly understand why Ms Conlon had lain undiscovered for such a long time.
“I’m told she led a very quiet, private life over the last number of years, which obviously has contributed to the fact she’s lain so long,” he added.
“Also, there’s a number of relatively new flats there, with some tenants not staying for long.
“When I was doing election canvassing in the area it was often quite difficult to find people at home.
“A lot of them were often out working shifts. It’s not like the front doors are lying open with neighbours coming in and out all the time. It’s not that type of development.”
Yesterday, shocked neighbours questioned how Ms Conlon’s body didn’t attract attention for two years, and how household bills were still being paid.
Ciara, a mother-of-two who has lived in Larkspur Rise for years, said: “It’s horrifying. My kids have played in front of the flats all summer and nobody knew. It’s sad that nobody including her family knew she was there.”
“I’ve lived here a long time. It’s a quiet street and most people keep themselves to themselves. That’s maybe why nobody noticed.”