After a few years out of the spotlight, Petaluma's notorious Sampson family is back in the news after a badly decomposed body was found on their property and a feud with neighbors grew ugly when one family member allegedly began dumping human waste at a nearby property.
The remains of Troy Austin, 52, of Petaluma was found on the Sampson's land on Dec. 29, and the Sonoma County Coroner's Office is still investigating the cause of death. Family matriarch Rose Sampson said Austin was a homeless man who the family's church, Fields of the Woods, took in and gave a place to stay in one of their trailers. After a long battle with alcoholism, he suffered from liver disease and had been hospitalized in the weeks before his body was discovered, Rose Sampson said.
“We hadn't seen him for a few days and when we went to check on him, he was dead,” she said on Tuesday. She said he had a habit of coming and going. “He was a very nice man. He mostly kept to himself.”
Neighbors, who asked not to be identified, said a Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy told them the body was in an advanced stage of decomposition when it was found, and that animals had ravaged the corpse.
“The deputy said it (the body) had been there for a long time, around 30 days,” one neighbor said. “The extremities were disconnected from the body. It looked like animals got to it.”
Sgt. Carlos Basurto with the Sheriff's Department said his office referred the case to the Sonoma County Coroners Office. “If there's nothing suspicious, it's something the coroner handles,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the coroner's office said she could not discuss the case or the state the body was in when it was found because it is still under investigation, but did confirm Austin's identity.
In an unrelated case, a dispute with neighbors over a dog allegedly led a member of the Sampson family to dump human waste on their property in retaliation.