A Georgia woman who had been visiting relatives in the Buffalo area the past few months and reportedly faced tensions within her family back home apparently was living out of her car for the past few weeks before she was found dead Friday in her snow-covered car at the McDonald’s restaurant in Fredonia, according to those who knew her.
Fredonia Police found Darlene Depto, 48, of Adairsville, Ga., in her vehicle when they were called at 4:45 p.m. Friday to the rear parking lot of McDonald’s. There was no obvious cause of death and an autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
Depto’s car was in the rear lot of the McDonald’s at the intersection of Routes 60 and 20, south of the Thruway exit. Snow had been plowed around it and police say the windows were tinted, making it difficult to notice anyone inside.
Police would not release any other information about Depto, formerly of West Seneca. But her car appeared to have been parked for some time, based on the amount of snow on the vehicle and the fact it had been plowed around, police said Saturday. A McDonald’s manager also declined to comment.
Depto had been in the area since mid-fall to stay with her mother and relatives in West Seneca. Family members reported her missing on Jan. 19 after they hadn’t heard from her for several weeks following Christmas. Police would not elaborate on the amount of time that had lapsed.
A woman who answered the phone at Depto’s former West Seneca residence and who identified herself as her mother said it was her understanding that her daughter had been dead for several days before she was found. She declined to comment further.
Depto and her boyfriend of 25 years, Stephen Hocieniec, were estranged in recent months.
“I’m in distress. My mind is scrambled right now,” Hocieniec said from his home in Adairsville – a community of less than 5,000 people about 50 miles north of Atlanta. He declined to comment further.
Depto’s relatives and some acquaintances in Georgia spoke of troubles that unfolded several weeks after she arrived back in the Buffalo area and since Christmas.
Hocieniec’s twin brother, John, and his wife, Debra Hocieniec, who live in Georgia, said Depto was upset after losing her job in October as a teller at Wells Fargo Bank in Woodstock, Ga. Shortly afterward, Depto left for the Buffalo area for about three months, John Hocieniec said.
Something went sour around Christmas, while Depto’s mother and another daughter were reportedly in Florida, and Depto remained in West Seneca.
The Hocieniecs’ understanding was that Depto felt she had to leave West Seneca after Christmas, and she did, and had apparently been missing ever since.
“Steve had been calling her mother on a daily basis, wondering what was going on,” said John Hocieniec, adding that he didn’t know the last time his brother spoke with Depto. “He’s been trying to find her.”
Hocieniec said his brother and Depto had been together for 25 years.
“You might as well say they were married,” he said. “There was no foul play.”
After his brother and Depto’s mother contacted police about her being missing, Fredonia police at one point found Depto’s vehicle in a Walmart parking lot in Fredonia, John Hocieniec said. He also indicated that Depto was aggravated with his brother and turned her cellphone off, and he was no longer able to track her whereabouts.
Hocieniec said Georgia police arrived at his brother’s home last night to inform him of Depto’s death. John Hocieniec said he spent four hours Saturday afternoon trying to check on his brother at his home – but he told him, “Go away and leave me alone.”
Anyone who may have seen Depto recently is asked to contact the Fredonia Police Department at (716) 679-1531.