Police now say a man found dead under a railroad bridge in Burlington was killed, and they have identified the victim.
"The victim was identified late Wednesday via fingerprints as Ralph Bell, age 54, of Burlington," said Lt. Jennifer Morrison of the Burlington Police.
Police say Bell's tragic death was no slip and fall. The evidence now points to homicide.
"It appears that Mr. Bell sustained lethal injuries in a violent altercation. Subsequent to that he fell 40 to 50 feet over a sheer cliff," Morrison said.
Investigators would not say why Bell may have been on the bridge in the intervale, but did say it's an extremely dangerous crossing for pedestrians with high fall hazards and other physical dangers in the area. But those risks don't stop Kevin Donaldson from travelling the tracks every day to get to work. On Tuesday morning he noticed something disturbing.
"It was a big pile of blood on the ground. You could not miss it," Donaldson said.
Police found Bell's body beneath the bridge 12 hours later. They are still trying to piece together exactly what happened. The area is a notorious hangout for transients, but police say Bell was not homeless. He lived in an apartment complex on Park Street in Burlington's Old North End. And he worked seasonally on the Valcour Ferry. Since 2008 he ran the snack bar, but a family member told us this season he wasn't working.
On April 21 Bell wrote on his Facebook page, "The weather really sucks, delaying me from going back too [sic] work, we are flooded out down at Breakwaters, who knows when I will return back too work, maybe another month, so depressing keeps you in such a bad mood."
Breakwater Cafe hires the hospitality help. According to management, Bell's employment with the company ended in early May. Bell does have a criminal record dating back to 1989, but nothing in the last six years and nothing violent.
One of the neighbors at Bell's apartment complex said a few of the residents here were worried about Bell's safety after they say he was mugged last week. Police would not confirm or deny if that incident occurred. Investigators did say that they are following up on a several leads and do believe this is an isolated incident.
Morrison said, "At this time we have no specific information to suggest any ongoing risk to the public as a result of this incident beyond the fact that it is a violent crime."
Police are not releasing the specifics of Bell's injuries or his cause of death because those are details police say only his killer would know. They're also not saying whether they have any suspects.
If anyone has any information about the case they're urged to call the Burlington Police Department at 802-540-2222.
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