Lucie McNulty liked privacy.
“She liked to be by herself,” an old friend said of the retired music teacher from Williamsville's Casey Middle School, who in 2001 retreated to a reclusive life in Wells, Maine.
One week ago, police found McNulty's body inside her snowbound manufactured home.
She had been dead for two and a half years.
McNulty had been such a loner, there was no one to call on her. She never married. She had no children. She had let friendships go idle.
The checks for her $53,000-a-year pension were direct-deposited. A neighbor, seeing no activity and a car that never moved, figured McNulty had returned to the Buffalo area, reported the Bangor Daily News.
Was the home abandoned, or was someone inside? Who could be sure?
The property taxes were past due and foreclosure was imminent. Yet mail kept arriving because the home's occupant, or former occupant, never changed her address. And the electricity was still on.
The Wells police over the years knocked on the door but never forced their way in. Finally they decided it was time to answer the mystery on Atkins Lane.
They found McNulty's body in her bedroom. She had died of natural causes, a medical examiner determined.
The retired music teacher, a gifted flutist who organized stirring concerts yet displayed a hard edge, would have been 69.
Former colleagues described McNulty as an excellent teacher who liked to be alone.
“A complicated individual,” said Marilyn Smith.
“She was private. Her business was her business,” said Smith, who retired as a math teacher from Casey Middle School in 2008.
Smith would vacation in York, Maine, and would pass by Wells. So in the first year of McNulty's retirement, Smith contacted her former colleague to suggest they get together when Smith passed through. They chatted about doing so, but the reunion never occurred.
Smith tried again the following summer. This time McNulty was less chatty. The women traded messages on their answering machines but never actually conversed and never met up.
Other colleagues got the same result when they tried to connect with her, Smith said.
“I would say she didn't welcome everyone's friendship,” Smith said.
A yearbook photo from 1989 shows a stout, cherub-faced woman with a proud grin and a helmet of well-tended black hair. McNulty would soon enter her final decade of employment with the Williamsville Central district — 31 years in all at three different schools.
Hundreds if not thousands of students came to know her expectations.
“She had high standards,” said Jill Terreri Ramos, a former student who worked as a Buffalo News reporter before leaving the newspaper in October 2014. “She wanted her students to succeed and took a firm hand in demanding excellence. She felt we could all succeed. She wouldn't write anyone off.”
Former colleague Peter A. Crane acknowledged that Lucie G. McNulty was a woman with few friends.
“She was an incredible music teacher,” he said. “She was a little tough on herself. And sometimes a little tough on her friends, but never did anything to hurt anybody.
“When she did move to Maine, the friends were far away,” Crane continued. “And she made some new ones, I guess. But I don't know how active the friendships stayed there.”
In 2014, a former co-worker in New York contacted Wells police to say that the return of a Christmas card — the Post Office was sending back McNulty's mail — merited investigation, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Police at the time walked around the house but did not force their way in.
“There was absolutely nothing to indicate anything was wrong,” Lt. Gerald Congdon told the newspaper.
But a week ago, after determining that McNulty's property taxes were years overdue, police decided to get inside.
While everyone agrees that McNulty was a loner, interviews conducted in Buffalo and in Maine indicate different reasons for her loneliness. One Maine neighbor described a woman who wanted friends, but did not know how to make them or keep them.
“She had called and asked sort of out of the blue, “You seem nice. Do you like me?' ” Lois Martin told the Portland newspaper.
“I said, 'I guess, but I don't really know you.' And then she said, 'No one else likes me.' ”
But her acquaintances in Buffalo described a woman who was private because she liked her life that way.
Marilyn Smith, the retired math teacher from Casey Middle School, recalled a conversation with McNulty as the music teacher neared retirement.
Smith asked if McNulty intended to join any of the community bands or music groups she would find in her region of Maine.
Answered McNulty: “Why would I do that?”