Sunday, February 17, 2013

Joyce Carol Vincent



Lost.

In 2006 Joyce Carol Vincent was found dead in her London flat.  The cause of death was not determined due to the advanced state of decomposition of her body.  Joyce was 38 years old when she died.  Her body had lain undisturbed in her flat for nearly three years.  The story of Joyce, what there is to know and tell has been documented in the film Dreams of a Life.  

Joyce was not a shut-in, had no history of mental illness of drug abuse, and had three living sisters.  She was widely described as beautiful , vibrant, and successful.  By all accounts from those that knew her, it is as though the Joyce they knew simply slipped away; they seemed unable to reconcile the woman in the flat with the person they had known.  Contrary to the image of a recluse she was found surrounded by freshly wrapped Christmas presents; there must have been people in her life.

While there is something morbidly compelling about the unresolved cause of her death and the grim tableau of how she was found, the more disturbing element of this story is the three year wait before her discovery.  Where were family, friends, and coworkers?  Where were the neighbors or the mailman? Where, even, were the bill collectors? In the end, it took even the landlords three years to come and clear her out for unpaid rent.  

I think that the we learn more about ourselves in Joyce's story than we learn about her.  When she died in 2003 we were pre-Facebook and post nuclear-family.  2003 was right in the transition point between the constant connections of the social media age and the isolation and lack of community of the end of the 20th Century.  Three years? How can this be? It is not hard for me to imagine friends of mine disappearing and not being noticed for three or four months.  The free spirits, wanderers, or troubled souls, but three years? There is no one I know or have ever known that was in any way functional that could disappear from all things for three years and not have someone ring the bell.  

What are we to think of this?   Is Joyce some kind of social canary warning us of the dangers of our modernity? Is it an isolated case; one sad woman's quiet decline?  Is it possible that we have reached a place where people can live out their lives with no real connections?  How acceptable is distance between family members?  How important is the building of community? How long do you want to wait before someone finds you? 

This terrifies me.  Joyce's story tapped into some deeply rooted fears about mortality and loneliness.  I think that we all have these fears.  It's why we bother to call up old friends, love and lose and love again, and hassle our way through the holidays to spend time with family; so that when things go awry, someone is there to help us.  Somewhere along the line either Joyce stopped bothering, or everyone else did.  Probably a little of both.  I think a consequence of contemporary culture may be the devaluing of substantive connections with other people.  I think that we are all not so far away from being Joyce as we might like to believe.

Like what you are reading?  Then support the Kickstarter for my book Girl Gone Wild- On Being a Woman in the Wilderness.  Thanks!



References/Works Cited:

Dreams of a Life:
Photo:



52 comments:

  1. Just found this film on Netflix & watched it last night. I still don't understand how it took 3 years for the landlords to come around, or how her electricity was still on for 3 years. Or who the Xmas presents she was wrapping were for.

    I relate to Joyce a lot. I used to put for effort, to buy Xmas presents for people who never bought them for me in return, to perpetually get the short end of the stick in every relationship, etc. Comes the day when you just say, "Fuck it." If it weren't for the fact that I have a job (and it's my goal not to have one, eventually), it's entirely possible that the same type of thing could happen to me. It could happen to anyone.

    My guess is that Joyce was basically a high-functioning schizoid, and this was most likely due to a childhood that was not as pleasant as it was thought to be. Estranged from her sisters? Never interested in black men, when her father was a black man? It's all very suspicious, and smacks of dysfunction and abuse.

    Poor Joyce. I feel her pain. And I'm glad she doesn't, anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Never interested in black men, when her father was a black man? It's all very suspicious, and smacks of dysfunction and abuse."

      Eh? Since when would her choice of partner be reflective of her state of mind? Perhaps she worked around a lot more white men for instance?

      Delete
  2. It sounds like this story resonated with you, thanks for your thoughts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I also found this documentary on Netflix and watched it last night on my iPad as I prepared for bed. I had heard of this story a year or so ago and found it fascinating because it shows how such a thing can happen to anyone. Here I am, a single 38-year old woman who has lived alone in my apartment for over seven years; 30 minutes away from my hometown where I have family and friends. I have gained friends locally from various jobs worked here and becoming one with this city, but sometimes a significant amount of time can pass in between visits with some of them, especially considering I am usually the one who initiates social activities for us when we do get together.

    My emergency person of contact is my mom who is 30 minutes away, and because life gets busy I may communicate with my mom twice out the week. She, and most of the people in my life, know I work full-time, get off work and do freelance work at night and on the weekends, also work on my dissertation, and still have a life, so I think many times people assume that when they don't hear from me its because I'm busy. I'm in a fairly new relationship with someone who lives hours away in another state but I see him every other week on average, and communicate with him almost daily, so I think that if something were to happen to me while I am alone that it is safe to assume that within a two weeks time people may notice. This story of Joyce makes me wonder though, and the more I wonder, the more frightening the thought is. My heart goes out to those who were in her life who had to find out about her like they did so long after the fact, and now deal with it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This post is old, but Shanika if you ever read this, I agree. We live in a "ME, ME, ME, ME, ME!!! society these days. People don't value family and friends like they used to. Most families are dysfunctional in one way or another. Someones life may be okay looking on the outside, maybe even perfect, but everyone has Skeletons in their closet. Nothing is ever what it seems to be. What I learned from this story was that looks and success don't last forever, material things like a good reputation and career mean nothing if you don't have anyone to share it all with. And it definitely won't buy happiness, Joyce's couldnt.

      Delete
  4. Shanika, I think that you have touched on why Joyce's story affects us; we are increasingly busy and less and less substantively connected to the people in our lives. I think that rather than going to fear, it is a good reminder to hold our loved ones close, and choose our friends wisely. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have just watched the DVD, also from Netflix. I find your commentary excellent and very well-written. I echo the above statements, but the reason I am so shaken by this story is that..I am headed in Joyce's direction. The older I get the more isolated I find myself. I am just sick of and disappointed by people and the world and life just in general. I want to be left totally alone and to never have to talk to another person.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree with Anonymous 3/21--It 's rather difficult to find comfort in Life. One learns to adjust to the frequent disappointments by not expecting anything from others. Once you hit this level of existence, isolation is the only answer. There is a huge disconnect. Interpersonal relationships have lost their value.....I 'm ready to don a saffron colored robe and continue my journey as a monk. Perhaps it is where things will begin to make sense.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I think connection to other people is good for us, as is keeping our own good company. The world is always beautiful and you can always give something positive to someone. Be well!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I found out about this tragic story from comments in a recent news article on CNN regarding a four year old boy who was caring for a deceased adult for five days before anyone noticed.

    Joyce can't be blamed for her apparent self imposed isolation but this is a fair warning of the disconnect somewhere in our society. It's scary how this all occurred right before the age of social media and paints a very grim picture. Nowadays we have the convenience of bills being paid automatically and yet here was a woman who had gone unnoticed by her landlord and bill collectors. It just makes you wonder if we'll start seeing more of these unfortunate stories.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think you raise a good point about the changing nature of our times. We all assume that social media would have prevented this level of isolation, but are we really more connected than we used to be or do we just use social media as a cover?

    ReplyDelete
  10. This story is horrifying and fascinating. It could happen to any one of us. I can't wrap my mind around it. May she rest in peace now.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just watched the movie and quite disturbed about how a person can just become invisible. Yes I believe her sisters were searching for her but what baffles me most is why she cut off all interaction with get family. To me it shouts abuse and a dysfunctional upbringing. What was so great that she had such negative feelings towards her father? Could it be abuse? It's a tragic story but yes it does shout foul play in family life at done point in her life and no not just by the loss of her mother. Sad but may god rest your soul Joyce.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hello, I just watched Dreams of a life on Netflix, i must say that i know exactly how this all worked out. i myself have been kicked out of my family, and all my friends from the past moved on or died or something. i gave of my heart, my kindness and genuine love for people. Now, i live alone dont associated much with anyone, i run my errands and then it's back to my safe place, my aprartment, with my 2 cats. I know they will never hurt me, and yes i was abused as a child and as an adult by many women i choose to be with. now i havent been in a relationship for 7 years and not interested in starting all over again. i will die alone, this is what i have chosen. But I do know about lonelyness. This movie was a great eye opener to those who love a person, to let that person know that you care and love them... for me i willl never get a call or message like that and i have to accept that. Everyone threw me away so Fuck them all. thank you for your site. have a wonderful life <3 :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your stories and thoughts, I love the discussion that is taking place. I think that for many of us it is the absence of Joyce's family that is disturbing. And yes, I think many of us have bad experiences and hide ourselves away, but I don't think we should write everyone off. Perhaps we just have not yet found our place.

    ReplyDelete
  14. we are watching the film in drama gcse. and we have to act out what we think happened to her. its soo hard

    ReplyDelete
  15. I am sad because there are many people out there who are suffering with mental illness. The signs are there in Joyce's case. It is a shame that we cannot force help on people who do not want help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Please don't make assumptions about mental illness and blaming the victim. Please don't since it takes the guilt off the collective shoulders of society without relieving the basic causes of what happened here.

      Delete
  16. I think the filmmaker got it wrong. The people they interviewed in the movie projected their own thoughts and feelings onto that woman. None of them could say with absolute certainty what was going on in her life at any given time. Her "friends" basically took turns saying, one, she was beautiful and happy go lucky and, two, she was a mystery.

    To me, the fascinating thing about her story is what happened AFTER she died. What a shocking series of coincidences, you know? The electricity being on, the neighbors not reporting the smell, etc. I think THAT part is pretty interesting. But Joyce? Why assume she was sad and lonely, or mentally ill? So what if she ended up cleaning houses while she stayed on her ex-boyfriend's couch, or that she was a victim of domestic violence? Those things don't define her, in my opinion. Call me crazy, but I can't get past the Christmas gifts. Only a person full of hope buys Christmas presents. Only a person looking forward to hugs and kisses and joyful moments with family and friends buys Christmas presents. Joyce had plans. And in the midst of those plans - in the midst of her personal comeback - she died. Simple as that. Maybe she had a heart problem. Maybe she had an asthma attack (her ex did mention that she didn't use her inhaler as often as she should have). We can't know for sure what happened, but I do think the filmmaker did Joyce a great disservice by painting her as a lost/lonely/damaged person. Why would a person with that bleak of an outlook on life purchase gifts to give to other people???

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Who said the gifts were for other people?

      Delete
  17. I agree, why would she buy and wrap presents if she was lost and lonely? Some ppl just like their own company at certain points in their lives to deal with things on their own instead of ppl asking too many questions. I'm quite an out going person but I also have times in my life were I prefer being alone for long periods of time when I just want peace and quiet. Joyce may have had enough of men seeing her as beautiful and enigmatic. Maybe she wanted to be seen as just a nice person to hang out with. All the men in the documentary were obessessed with Joyce's looks apart from Martin who genuinely loved her. RIP Joyce <3

    ReplyDelete
  18. I agree that the movie was unsatisfying in terms of resolving what actually happened to Joyce. I also agree that personally, I was more distressed by the fact that no one noticed for so long, no neighbors, no mail man, no one. But we see again and again in the news terrible things happening right under our noses that we either do not see or choose not to see. I hope that I am always able to heed warning signs and come to the aid of others.

    Thanks for this continued discussion everyone, I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I just saw this movie. I do not think it was surprising that it took so long for them to come to the apartment. Her apartment was subsidized (meaning the government or another agency paid for most of it) so it could have taken quite some time for her to build up enough debt for the landlords to care. Where I live (Philadelphia area) I have helped clients who had not paid their utility bills in over a year without any threat of a shut off notice, and in some subsidized housing the utilities cannot be shut off. It. Is probably the same in England, too. Sad story.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I just watched and it had me wondering if this one day could be me...but then again, I have chosen to exile from family and focus on myself and my goals....I have given and received nothing in return but I'm not mad. Because I choose to disconnect from people right now doesn't mean I'm sad or unhappy...in fact I'm more at peace without my phone ringing or people knocking on my door. Just gonna do me for a while, and if my REAL family and friends can't keep up with me or my whereabouts then they aren't interested in me or my life. I have family I don't communicate with much but I know where they are and I still love them, I'm always available to my family as long as their intent remains genuine, if not I hope I've made an impression on someone and will never go unnoticed the way Joyce did.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have a friend like this. Successful, charming but I know very little about her and nearly nothing about her past. She listens and rarely talks. There is a wall you don't push past. Her parents may have passed - I'm not sure. I can surely see Joyce's story repeating itself when you meet people who are damaged and can't let us inside their lives in it's entirety.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I have watched the documentary about Miss Joyce Vincent recently and I could too easily see myself in Miss Joyce Vincent's life up to a point I shall say.
    I am born from a black Caribbean father and a white European mother. It is far too common to see, to feel and to notice that the father described is a stereotyped Caribbean father. We see (in the documentary) no proves of the fact that her father was (or was not) sexually abusing her but perhaps a strong possibility comes to my mind that he might have been emotionally or/and physically (meaning beating her) abusing her as it was very common generations after generations of Black/Brown Caribbeans (since colonial times) to beat their children..It was even recommended to be a good thing (!!) for disciplining them (established by colonialists by the way). So it has been passed on and on....

    Also Caribbean fathers and I am sorry for those who might be angry to read the stereotype that I am about to describe there (even though I do not necessary believe that every single Caribbean man is like this description)they are often as described in the documentary, shallow, coward and not showing any emotions (it was consider as a sign of weakness). In the documentary Miss Vincent's father died in 2004 so Miss Vincent was not in touch but did she know he was alive?? or vis and versa? as much as with the rest of her family?(sisters).

    All this just to say that she must have had a heavy past just knowing that her father was from Caribbean...Therefore it must have had a great impact on her. Her mother dead was a woman figure who no longer existing since childhood so this could explain her "drifting existence" even though she was raised by her sisters.(no reference point as a woman in the world).
    I do not know one person who is related to or born in Caribbean islands who had had NOT a heavy and dramatic life story to tell...

    It is possible to die all alone in this internet era or not. I read recently that an old man had died in his bed and he was found 15 years ago...(!!!) This was in France(even if that seems crazy and perhaps it might need to be checked...I believe cynically that it might be possible...).

    I am not condemning Miss Vincent's father as she also must have had her own responsibilities for her life choices. But I wonder if she was aware of the after effects of her childhood and womanhood? At 38, some starts to wonder why things in life are the way they're turning all the same like a endless circle if that's negative. Facing that it's more than a hard slap on the face. It could kill us when we work on ourselves psychologically... Though it's possible to come with some acceptance and change our life.

    Perhaps she was on the hedge of understanding of her situation and how she got where she was? Then she drifted in a severe depression? killed herself? pills or starved herself? Even the wrapped presents for a Christmas could have been her own illusion of having a family reunion like anyone else...or maybe it was going to happen? Or like someone wrote before she simply died of an asthma attack...She was described as a enigmatic woman while alive and she still is while dead...It would really be interesting if the sisters could come forward to putting some light on this life story...Are they not owe her that the least?? If they did not take part of the documentary they must have something to be ashamed of (??) (I am not implying or judging anyone or anything here).

    As lots of Caribbean people would say, we clarify "things" between ourselves, the family. It often is shameful. not in the sense of past acts but showing emotions is shameful. Will we ever know what happen? I wonder...

    ReplyDelete
  23. I agree that the family, her father and sisters could have helped illuminate the causes of Joyce's situation. I also find it very strange that none of them were willing to come forward and discuss her even in memorial. Perhaps there was an underlying family trauma, or just some kind of falling out, either way, it seems certain that they must have played a role in her isolation.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I just watched the documentary. It struck a cord with me, cause I lived in an apartment around someone that died. There was a smell and bug issues, and I did make calls. Nothing was done for over a month, his body sat in his apartment and rotted for over a month. I was told on my phone calls, that the apartment could not do a "check up" on the apartment unless there was "real reason to enter the apartment". This man that died was sad and alone. He never had anyone come see him. His job never cared that he didn't show up. His family finally came to check on him after a month of no returned phone calls. These stories happen more than we hear. Even with a person like me asking for someone to check on this man, no one cared. Our society does not want to step in, we want to be hands off, we are more comfortable leaving people alone. It's just sad.
    The flip side is that I had to go through therapy to help me deal with the issues cause by living in an apartment below a dead body for a month. This has changed me as a person.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is an amazing parallel story you have shared with us. I think that it is really hard to be the voice that speaks up and even harder when it goes unheard. I also think that you should feel good about holding the space for that man and remembering him until everyone else caught on, you were the good sheppard.

      Delete
  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I guess, there is always an expensive price to pay when you move away from who you are, try to be something that you are not. I don’t blame Joyce or anyone, who wants something a little more out of life but the reality is, long relaxed hair, a light skin tone and a cultivated speaking manner, sometimes, is not enough to chase the loneliness or to make you socially acceptable. The director did her best and we should be grateful for alerting us to Joyce and her tragic story. But the docu does not venture into the fact that Joyce was black and perhaps how racism could have been a contributory factor.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Plaintain1, I am curious about this, being from a white-middle class background, are you suggesting her isolation was related to race?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I believe it's possible that it played a part. In one of the quality newspapers, it said that 'she had over-reached herself'. Breaking that comment down and as a black woman myself, some and certainly not all white men, can see you as something exotic, experimental. And maybe she wanted something lasting, to be taken seriously. She could have gone with a black guy and equally experienced the same thing but in her own case, according to the film, she dated white men. The 'over-reaching' bit is that she was a black woman from a working class background (I'm from the same borough) and dating middle class men. Her looks gave her access and the elocution lessons gave her a modicum of respectability but with the company she was keeping, I just wonder if it was enough. I hope that as time goes by, we get to find out more.

      Delete
    2. It's true, sometimes ambition or the drive to become a part of something that we are inherent outsiders of can leave us more isolated than before.

      Delete
  28. how she died is not what I'm concerned with. What bothers me the most is the time it took for anyone to notice the fact that they have not heard from her in such a long time period. The electricity and gas would have been cut off within a two to four month period. The mailman probably would not have noticed anything, but what boggles my brain is how the friends, family and or her last employer could allow that much time to go by without checking up on her. I could understand it if she had no friends or family at all, but she had both friends and family. This is truly a sad story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Her last job seems to have been the sort of one people regularly just leave unannounced. Indeed Joyce had a history of just suddenly leaving jobs which most likely explains her downward career trajectory.

      Her employment record ould not have gone unnoticed, she would have found it increasingly difficult to find the sort of job she'd been used to.

      Her friends and especially her family just didn't have any contact details for her. She regularly moved and disappeared. Her family had hired a Private Detective which the film never mentions.

      Delete
  29. Anonymous, thanks for this perspective and insight. Joyce's story resonates with so many of us, but the movie leaves so many questions. Did you know her? Can you provide us some context?

    ReplyDelete
  30. This there a book written about this sad story as I can't get the doco.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I watched this a few days ago sadly enough this reminds me of my life no one visit me, I'm always visiting others I love company but I'm told I stay too far, but I make a effort to visit I have only acquaintances no friends despite my efforts to reach out just not successful and no one would every know it if they meet me, I am quiet, but friendly, easy to talk to a good listener just no friends or family that visits me but I do visit family and I am easy to get along with but still no friends. I sometimes think what will happen to me if I ever got really sick. I also am getting over a abusive relationship and can sing too she reminds me if myself in a lot of ways

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Helen, you are one of many people that felt they could relate to Joyce. I think in the end none of us are as alone as we think we are, reach out!

      Delete
    2. I totally agree. Honestly, no disrespect, I personally found Joyce a rather boring individual (just my opinion) it's how she died and what happened (or didn't happen) after she stopped breathing that haunts me so...

      Delete
  32. I did some reading and it seems that she may have seen the doctor a few times. But I think this lady may have been intravorted. You look outgoing and friendly but you never let too many people in. She was not too close to family it seems sadly.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I just watched the movie last night and still feel haunted by this tragic story. I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Sometimes I have wanted to move out of state for isolation (free spirit attitude) but that fear of loneliness supersedes. And now after hearing this story, the fear of this happening truly resonates in me.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I've been reading about this for some time now and finally was able to watch the documentary. It seems a little odd to me. I was just wondering do they even know if it's Joyces body that was really found.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I believe that all of that has been verified. She did have family that was contacted, and one of the other readers has mentioned a much more extensive book that was published about her. I think many of us fight the urge to say foul play in the face of this sad story.

    ReplyDelete
  36. I,ve watched this docu last week and its heartbreaking.But what I dont get is,where is the fiance she was engaged to?If I'm correct,they never tracked him down.I'm not accusing anyone but it has been proven he was abusive to her.Maybe something went wrong,he panicked,left her body and locked the door behind him?Might explain why the bills were stil being payed.

    ReplyDelete
  37. This could happen to anyone, that's why it's such a cautionary and mind boggling story. I agree. But the odds of it happening to you or me are not likely. This was over ten years ago folks, yes it is tragic and terrifying because I mean, "who the Heck is on a sofa dead and goes undiscovered for three years?" Especially a young, beautiful woman with a successful and independent life like Joyce? Who had dinner with Stevie Wonder and got to meet lots of many other Iconic people! Now we have Twitter, and Facebook and Youtube etc to keep us a lot more close and connected to our social circles. She died right around the time MySpace first came out. This is also what happens when you cut people out of your life and become a hermit. I can't say Joyce was mentally ill. Maybe she was and people knew that, yet chose to turn a blind eye? I can't say. But I can say that it's pretty clear she liked her privacy. Honestly, no disrespect, I personally found Joyce a rather boring individual, nothing spectacular. (Just my opinion) it's how she died and what happened (or didn't happen) after she stopped breathing that haunts me so. Every night, before I fall asleep, I call my mother or uncle, or half sister to tell them I love everybody. You never know if that's the last time you'll hear from them, or they hear from you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you are the first person to frame this in terms of privacy rather than loneliness, which may very well be true...

      Delete
  38. i never heard of her before today, i am downloading the movie as i type this. i am in europe and seems like only us netflix got it, not the netflix for europe.

    her story really resonates with me; i am 38, not too many friends, and most of my family lives in an another country. but, if i'd died in my apartment my landlord would call the cops immediately - of that i am sure. i dont live in a huge building; its just my landlord and I in a huge house.

    i dont know enough about joyce to say what could have happened. what i do know is, how hard it is to start over after losing a job, ending a relationship, after mental health issues. how difficult it is to get real close friends as an adult after having spent my 20's as a drug addict and my childhood moving around from fosterhome to fosterhome...yes, it is extremely hard to get on track if your life starts out in an abusive home.

    i feel for this woman, she deserved better.

    ReplyDelete