A day after a body was found at a St. Thomas residence in the Mountain Top area, police were still not releasing his identity, but friends and neighbors said the man was Peter Church, who was elderly and lived alone.
Late Thursday afternoon, police spokeswoman Melody Rames said the police were treating the incident as a “medical death.” But she would not say whether they had identified the body.
“I don’t have any information. If I have any information, I’ll put it out in a press release,” she said.
However, word began to spread around the close-knit Mountain Top community quickly after police were called Wednesday and found the body of a man who apparently had been dead for several days in the building that Church had occupied for about 30 years.
A neighbor, Michael Alcorn, said he became concerned Wednesday when a man asked him if he had seen Church; the man had left an envelope for Church in his mailbox three days before and it was still there. When Church did not respond to their knocking, the men summoned police.
Church was the founder of V.I. Marine Radio and had been well known on the island, but became somewhat reclusive in his later years. Alcorn estimated he was in his 70s.
Jody Davis, who said he was friends with Church for 35 years and worked for him at the station for about eight of those years, described him as “a very kind, gentle soul” and “an electronics genius … He was an inventor. He could create just about anything out of anything.”
Church put those talents to work, improving equipment for St. Thomas Rescue, Davis said.
Friends also recalled that Church was a conduit for some rescues at sea, through the marine radio station.
Davis said Church was a great lover of animals and cared for stray cats and dogs. “He just couldn’t turn ’em away,” Davis said, adding that at one time Church had about 18 cats and five or six dogs.
“It’s really a loss to the community,” Davis said.
Alcorn said he first met Church in 1973 when Church was running a motorcycle sales and repair shop in the Long Bay area. They became neighbors when Church established V.I. Marine Radio and moved to the Mountain Top building “in the late 70s or early 80s. “
The mainstay of the business was ship-to-shore communication, patching calls from sailboats into landlines on St. Thomas. Often the service assisted in distress calls, connecting boaters with the Coast Guard. “They could go out about 150 miles” with the signal, Alcorn said.
Before cell phones and satellite communications rendered the business obsolete, Alcorn said it was a busy operation, generally employing two full-time operators during the day and one at night. The building that housed the business and all its equipment also had two apartments, one occupied by one of the operators and the other by Church and his wife, Susie Savage, who died eight or 10 years ago, some time after the business had drastically declined.
“When Susie died, he just went downhill big time,” Alcorn said. “That hit him hard. He became more of a hermit.”
Davis agreed. He said years ago he and Church used to go diving and sky-diving and Church was always active. He enjoyed island life.
“He sort of wilted inside when his wife passed away,” Davis said. “It just took the life out of him. He tried but he was really a lost soul.”
Neither Davis nor Alcorn knew where Church was from originally. Alcorn said he moved from the States to St. Thomas when he was still a boy; his mother, Candide Church, owned and managed the Compass Rose gift shop in Charlotte Amalie.
Alcorn also said Church had a heart condition.
Davis said he has spoken with Church’s brother, Michael Church, who lives in California and who will be coming to St. Thomas to make final arrangements.