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"Missing man found deadAn autopsy is slated, but police doubt foul play."
"As police combed the area for Robert Bob Rockwell, friends called the elderly man's disappearance unlikely, even weird.He's not the kind of person who would wander off, said Billy Berry, who came from Silverdale Thursday morning after hearing that Rockwell was missing.He's a homebody, Berry said. It's all that we could do to get him to go out to dinner with us.An intensive 18-hour search ended Thursday afternoon when the body of Rockwell, age 92, was found in a thicket near his Euclid Avenue home, a few feet from a steep bluff overlooking Puget Sound.His body was taken to the Kitsap County Coroner's Office, where an autopsy was to be performed yesterday. Police said there was no evidence of foul play.Nothing obvious at all, Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper said. As a precaution, we'll investigate it pretty thoroughly.Rockwell was last heard in his home at 11 p.m. Tuesday. He was reported missing Wednesday evening, when basement tenants returned from work and could not find him inside the residence. Bainbridge Police and Kitsap County Search and Rescue teams numbering 50 persons combed the north-end neighborhood throughout the night.K-9 units were brought in, a King County helicopter with heat-sensing equipment flew overhead, and Suquamish Police and Coast Guard vessels patrolled offshore.The search broke off at 4:30 a.m. Thursday, then resumed at 8 a.m. in near-freezing conditions.In the hours that followed, police and several members of the press repeatedly walked within 20 feet of where Rockwell's body lay.He was finally located about 12:30 p.m. to the north of the grounds, as fire crews looked for a place to rappel down to search the face of the bluff.This is one we wanted to go the distance on, Cooper said. We couldn't find the guy, and there was no reason for him to be missing.'A good man'Rockwell moved to Euclid Avenue from Seattle in 1929 and had lived there since, save for a four-year tour of duty in the South Pacific during World War II. He worked as a carpenter. When his home burned down in the 1940s, he built another on the same lot, a single-story cottage with a daylight basement cut into the slope of the grounds.The property is flanked on three sides by firs and cedars, secluded from neighbors by dense tangles of ivy, ferns and shrubs. The lawn rolls down to a high bluff with an expansive view overlooking Point Monroe.Rickety stairs lead to the beach; police spent much of the search there in case Rockwell had fallen over the cliff.But there were no leads, as the man was generally reclusive; he was not married, and a brother, Noel Rockwell of Quilcene, was his only relative. His closest neighbors were Wade Smith and his wife, who have lived in the home's basement apartment for the past decade.They took Rockwell regular meals and helped him pay bills as his ability to manage his own finances waned; Smith bought him small groceries several times a week, a few items at a time as he requested.One day it would be potatoes, the next day, cottage cheese and peanut butter, Smith said. Despite his age and slight build, Rockwell was said to be in fair health and of generally sound mind. Those around him described him as extremely self-reliant, proud, and a diehard conservative. He was also, his brother said, generous to the point of having no money.He drove into his late 80s, at the wheel of a 1967 Jeep Wagoneer of which he was the original owner. He lived simply on his Social Security check and the modest rent paid by his tenants. He hand-washed his clothes on an old-fashioned washboard, hanging them to dry on a line inside the house.His vitality was such that just a week ago, he tilted an aluminum ladder against the back of the house, climbed 20 feet and cleaned his own gutters.He was also a longtime member of Bible Baptist Church near Lemolo, where he sang solos and recited scripture for the congregation. Parishioners visited Rockwell sometimes - delighting him if they sat down at the old upright piano in his dining room - and he spent Christmas dinner with Berry's family in Silverdale.While his church attendance had lapsed since he stopped driving and his hearing failed, word of Rockwell's disappearance prompted calls throughout the congregation Thursday, bringing Berry and assistant pastor David Harper to the home to offer help.Harper recalled a time six years ago, when a missionary from the church needed a bicycle and Rockwell said he had one to give away. He got under his bed and pulled out a vintage bicycle from the 1930s, unassembled and still in its box. It was sold to a collector, Harper said, netting the congregation several thousand dollars and more than one bicycle.He was a good man, Harper said. He loved the lord.Rockwell's giving extended to the political realm as well.Smith said his landlord was inundated with mailings - as many as five a day - from fringe conservative groups asking for donations to help impeach then-President Bill Clinton. He gave to all of them - going without heating oil twice last year because he ran out of money.Even after Clinton left the White House, the mailings continued.They sent him one that said 'yay, we won,' then asked him for more money, Smith said. They were just trying to fleece him.No answersOver the past few years, neighbors said, Rockwell seldom left his home - emerging each afternoon to check his mail at the end of the driveway, and for occasional yard projects in the summer.He generally sat in his living room, eating his meals from a hotplate before a picture window overlooking the sound.Police still don't know what drew him across the yard and into the dense brush that separates the property from the home next door.He was found with a tape-measure in his pocket, his body lying near a wooden stake, leading authorities to speculate that he may have been trying to determine the property line for some reason.What happened next may only be determined by autopsy; police said there was no indication of anything but death by natural causes, or possibly exposure.We suspect he was dead before we even started looking, Cooper said.Friends agreed that the circumstances of Rockwell's death were as unexpected as they were unfortunate.I always assumed that he would die in the house, Smith said. That's what he wanted. "