COSTA MESA — A homeless woman whose mummified remains were found in a car parked illegally in Costa Mesa last week worked in education in Los Angeles and held two master's degrees, according to police interviews with relatives and a review of public records.
Signe Margit, 59, had been on the move in the last decade, living in a dozen cities throughout California, Texas and Washington, records also show.
From Aug. 13, 2001 to Jan. 7, 2002, Margit worked with special education students at Audubon Middle School in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
She was issued a pre-intern teaching certificate for cross-cultural, language and academic development emphasis in California. The certificate was valid from August 2001 to September 2002 and was supported by the LAUSD. It allowed her in-class teaching experience with children who had emotional problems and mild-to-moderate learning disabilities.
She returned to the teaching field in Los Angeles years later.
Costa Mesa Sgt. Ed Everett said she was working in a job, which he declined to identify, in Los Angeles County for three years until she was let go in August 2009.
She lived where she worked, he said, and her life only got more difficult when she lost her job and then her home.
Margit's former employer, among others, has helped police put together her past.
"In this particular case, the public was a big help because initially we didn't know, other than a potential first name. We didn't have any information to reference her," Everett said. "Luckily for us, her first name was unusual … we got several tips from different individuals calling about Signe."
Costa Mesa Police Department detectives have also been in contact with Margit's sister, who said Margit was once a teacher and had two master's degrees. Detectives would not release the name or exact location of Margit's family, saying only that they lived on the East Coast.
Police have made progress piecing together how Margit's dead body ended up in a former Corona del Mar real estate agent's car for up to 10 months before being discovered by a cadet last week. The driver, who reportedly had fallen on hard economic times herself, apparently continued to use the Mercury Grand Marquis even with Margit's corpse covered by clothing in the next seat.
family had last heard from her in December, when they reported her missing to police.
"We believe she was taking care of herself," Everett said.
The majority of local transients don't maintain a lot of contacts with family, mailboxes or things along those lines, but Margit did, Everett added.
Records show Margit was consistently on the move for the early part of the decade.
In 2000, she started a nonprofit business, the Lighted Way, from her San Antonio apartment. There were no co-signers for the business on registration forms or a description of the business.
In 2003, she was successfully sued over a contract dispute in Los Angeles County, and the next year she was living in Chehalis, Wash.
She did not teach in Washington state, state officials said.
By October 2004, she was $30,000 in debt and declared bankruptcy, court records show. She had $107 in her bank account, but owed thousands of dollars to various banks and credit card companies.
Court filings show she reported making $6,000 that year in income and earned $24,000 each of the previous two years.
At the time she owned a 1999 Toyota Corolla, some clothing, $50 worth of jewelry and not much else, according to court documents.
She was not married and did not have children.
Outside of court records, Margit was not on the public radar again until last week, when a police cadet checking on a complaint of a car blocking a driveway on Tustin Avenue found her body in the passenger seat of the car.
She had been dead in that seat for months, police said, and was hidden by a pile of clothing. The driver, who is the daughter of the car's owner, tried to mask the smell of the decomposing remains with an open box of baking soda.
Police said the driver, whose name has not been released by authorities, reported meeting Margit last December at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley and let her sleep in the car.
She told police she came back to the car one morning and found Margit dead.
It was unclear why she did not report the dead body to police, as is required by law, but she might have been afraid, authorities said.
There were not obvious signs of foul play. The Orange County Coroner was unable to immediately determine a cause of death and toxicology results are pending.
Detectives are considering seeking charges against the driver for not reporting the death.