How a Cult-Horror Starlet Became Mummified

Yvette Vickers was found in her house a year after she died, her body unrecognizable

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Yvette Vickers died sometime last year. The one-time Playboy playmate, who also appeared in cult-horror hits like Attack of the 50-foot Woman and Attack of the Giant Leeches, died alone in her home, where her body stayed until a neighbor (and fellow actress), Susan Savage, finally checked on her on April 27. Police couldn't identify her body at first, because she had been mummified. But aside from the tragedy of a person growing old and eventually dying alone in her home, there's a question that must be asked here: How did she come to be mummified?

When we hear "mummification," we usually think of ancient Egyptians pulling out brains and other organs, preserving them (though not always the brains) in ceramic jars, washing the body cavity with palm wine and filling it with "incense and other materials," then covering your body in natron powder (a sodium compound mixture) to speed up the drying process. Then there's the wrapping in linen bandages.

But mummification actually refers to the effect of this process on the body, not the process itself. And the effect, in short, is to preserve the skin, organs, and soft tissue from decay. Mummifying a body in the Egyptian tradition can cause this to happen, but it can also happen naturally (as with the famed "accidental mummies" of Guanajuato, Mexico). Howstuffworks's Tom Harris explains:

There are many circumstances that can lead to such a mummy. In nature, bodies have been preserved in the frozen ice of glaciers, the oxygen-depleted depths of peat bogs and the arid ground of the desert... When bodies are buried in hot sand, without any protective structure, the sand can absorb the body's fluids, completely desiccating it. This natural mummification process also occurred in the oldest Egyptian graves.

And that's probably what happened to poor Vickers. Los Angeles is a very arid place and Vickers died inside, so she would have been protected from the region's infrequent rainstorms. Her once-picturesque, 1920s-era home, the Times reports, had fallen into disrepair, "exposed in some places to the elements." When Savage went to investigate why Vickers hadn't picked up her mail in a year or so, "she peered through a broken window with another piece of glass taped over the hole." So there would have been air moving around the body to carry off moisture.

It remains sad and disturbing that Vickers died in such quietly tragic circumstances. The Times makes no mention of family that survived her, but Savage said, "she still got cards and letter from all over the world requesting photos and still wanting to be her friend."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.