Police checking on unpaid bills made a gruesome discovery in a Moscow (search) apartment: the skeletal remains of four family members who apparently died at different times over a period of up to five years, prosecutors said Wednesday.

The bodies of an elderly couple, their daughter and granddaughter were found by a police officer who forced the apartment's door open because maintenance fees were long overdue, city prosecutor's office spokesman Sergei Marchenko (search) said.

Aside from the condition of the bodies, other evidence suggesting that the deaths occurred years ago included a 1997 calendar in the grandfather's room, old ruble notes that are out of circulation and food in the refrigerator dated 2003, Marchenko said.

"Honestly, we couldn't understand whether the smell was coming from the apartment or from our basement," a neighbor told Rossiya (search) television. She said residents of the dilapidated brick building had been pressing state building maintenance officials to do something.

Marchenko identified the dead as Timofei Komarov; his wife, Anna, born in 1914; their daughter, Alla Ivkina, born in 1942; and granddaughter, Anna Ivkina, born in 1971.

Rossiya reported that maintenance and utility bills had gone unpaid for two years and the phone had been shut off before that for nonpayment. The last time neighbors had seen any of the family was in August 2003, the TV station reported.

"They were very withdrawn, we even thought they were members of some kind of cult," neighbor Anna Zayats said in televised comments. "The women wore headscarves ... and we hardly saw the grandfather and grandmother at all."

Rossiya broadcast video of what looked like an orderly, modest apartment and showed part of one of the bodies — the torso, upper legs and a swatch of hair — with the rest obscured by a doorway. The body appeared to be a woman and was dressed in a blue shirt and what looked like a simple long skirt.

"The girl was strange, I think she was sick," Zayats said, referring to Anna Ivkina, who was in her 30s. She said that when neighbors didn't see the family for a long time and the apartment's electricity meter was removed, "We thought they'd gone away to a monastery."

The Interfax news agency quoted a law enforcement source as saying a large amount of Orthodox Christian religious literature was in the apartment. Rossiya also showed a cabinet with several icons inside.

But a spokeswoman for the district police, Galina Berezuyeva, said the apartment had no more icons than normal and there was no sign the occupants were religious extremists.