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‘Paradoxical undressing’ explored in death of Maywood woman

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EXCLUSIVE: Authorities were investigating whether a 53-year-old Maywood woman whose partially clothed body was found off Route 17 North in Rochelle Park this morning may have shed her own garments, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.

Christine Bezak of Maywood was reported missing by her husband last night, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said.

“There are no outward signs of a homicide right now,” Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT , “but an autopsy must be done to reach a final determination.”

  • YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The death of a Maywood woman whose body was found behind a row of bushes off Route 17 yesterday morning doesn’t appear suspicious, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said tonight. READ MORE….

The prosecutor added that Bezak had a history of alcohol trouble, and that empty bottles found nearby were being tested to determine whether they were hers.

Bezak’s body was found in a grassy area behind a row of bushes around 8:30 a.m. today between the county Board of Social Services building on Passaic Street and a Route 17 BMW dealership at the Maywood border, Molinelli said. She apparently died overnight, he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .

Molinelli confirmed that she was partially clothed and that garments were found nearby.

However, he declined to comment on whether Bezak might have died of hypothermia after succumbing to what is commonly known as “paradoxical undressing.”

That determination would be made by the county Medical Examiner, he said.

Shortly before death, some people will remove their clothes, as if they were burning up, when they are actually freezing. As a result, some who have frozen to death are found fully or partially naked and then misidentified as victims of a violent crime.

The exact reasons aren’t known, but experts suspect the phenomenon occurs when fine blood vessels near the surface of the skin contract in reaction to cold. This automatically limits heat loss and diverts blood to the vital organs.

Eventually, however, the contracting muscles are exhausted. Blood rushes into the skin, producing a deep flush and a sensation of being too hot.

Hypothermia clouds judgment, which could lead to undressing, scientists say.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the syndrome “usually occurs among risk groups such as elderly people, homeless persons, psychiatric patients and persons who function in cold environments or are unintentionally exposed to such conditions.”

Although it ordinarily occurs in extremely cold conditions, incidents have been reported when temperatures were in the 60s (The National Weather Service reported overnight temperatures in the mid-30s in Bergen County).

Victims often crawl into a hole or space — such as the bushes where Bezak’s body was found — in an attempt at burrowing for protection, the experts say.

This is quickly followed by unconsciousness and then death.

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