As his family and neighbors focused on the Herculean task of rebuilding homes and lives battered by Hurricane Rita, few paid much attention to Larry Euglon's long absence.

"All the neighbors asked where Mr. Larry was," said Osborne Johnson, who lived across the street from Euglon for over 20 years. "We decided he had evacuated with other people and didn't have the chance to come back."

It turns out that he never left. The skeletal, mummified remains of the 51-year-old recluse were recently discovered inside his home, which was still enveloped by thick branches from two splintered oak trees.

Nearly 18 months after Rita hit this southeast Texas city, many here continue to wonder how — and when — Euglon might have died and how his disappearance could have gone unnoticed for so long.

"I walked away with more questions than answers. You keep thinking why didn't someone notice this," said Jefferson County Justice of the Peace Vi McGinnis. "It has been the talk of the town."

While investigators believe Euglon died of natural causes, they can't pinpoint if it happened before or after Rita. Some neighbors remember him turning down an offer to be evacuated in the days before the storm made landfall at nearby Sabine Pass on Sept. 24, 2005.

Johnson, 73, said most of the neighborhood evacuated before Rita and stayed away for weeks. When they returned, their focus was on repairing homes and returning to normalcy — not Euglon's whereabouts.

Police and fire officials, meanwhile, concentrated their post-Rita rescue efforts on homes that sustained structural damage. Because Euglon's house had no such damage, it was not among those checked.

The weeks stretched into months and Euglon's home stayed untouched, becoming an eyesore with overgrown grass, scattered trash, fallen debris and about to be sold for unpaid property taxes.

Then on Jan. 27, a potential buyer who was inspecting the property discovered Euglon's fully clothed body on his bed atop the covers.

Aside from a thick layer of dust, the interior of the house appeared undisturbed for months. The living room was neatly arranged, and china plates and wine glasses were set on a dining room table.

An autopsy found no signs of bullet or stab wounds or other trauma, but it appeared animals had consumed portions of the man's skin and flesh. A cause of death couldn't be determined, but the report concluded that "no foul play was discernible."

Euglon apparently had been ill for some time before his death and lost much weight. However, the exact nature of his illness is not known.

What sketchy information is available has only fueled speculation about whether Euglon died as the storm came ashore. Some wonder why Euglon's family didn't check on him. He had a daughter, ex-wife and other relatives who lived in Beaumont.

But Dorothy Euglon, an aunt who lived less than a mile away on the same street, says such criticism is unfair.

"You could have knocked on that door until hell freezes over and he was not going to let you in," she said. "He did it. Not the family. He disassociated himself and to this day, I don't know why."

Larry Euglon often ran away when he met relatives on the street. He shunned most human contact, only coming out of his home to walk around his neighborhood, usually with his head down.

Zenja Hughes, Euglon's former sister-in-law, said she suspects mental illness could explain his behavior. She recalled seeing him dressed in winter clothes during hot weather and saying people were out to get him.

Dorothy Euglon remembered her nephew as a hard worker who told humorous stories about being a construction laborer and was nicknamed "Big Tank" because of his one-time weight problem.

"Knowing him, he thought he could ride the storm out," she said. "Now what did he die from? Could it have been fright? Could it have been a heart attack? With 120 mph winds tearing up your house, who knows. Only God knows."

McGinnis — the Justice of the Peace — said Euglon's death has made Beaumont residents more aware of the needs of neighbors living alone.

For his part, Johnson says no one is at fault for Euglon's death.

"But we are at fault of him not being found," he said. "I fault myself because living this close to him, I should have called the police or somebody and had a search made for him."