Much of transient’s life mystery

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Few people were aware of Howard J. Payne’s existence in Clovis. Even police information about the 52-year-old transient whose body was discovered Tuesday in an abandoned house near Wal-Mart is sketchy.

He was in Clovis a few months, though police aren’t sure exactly how long. A public assistance card found near his body expired last year and hospital records indicate Payne was seen at the emergency room in recent months, Clovis Police Capt. Patrick Whitney said
People at nearby businesses told investigators he was often seen in the area up until about a month ago, however, none reported interacting with him.

“It’s terrible for anybody to die alone and be discovered like that,” Whitney said Friday.

Police were notified about the body at 701 Arizona on Tuesday morning by two teens. Based on the body’s decomposition, Payne died several weeks ago in the house where he had apparently taken shelter, police said.

Investigators are awaiting the results of an autopsy to determine cause of death, however, there is no indication of foul play, Whitney said.

Payne was discharged from the Army in California after a little more than a year’s service in the late 1970s, according to police. He also spent time in Arizona.

In Arizona, Payne was fingerprinted in Apache County and those prints were entered into a Federal Bureau of Investigation database. Whitney cited privacy issues when asked why Payne was fingerprinted in Arizona.

The fingerprints provided the final link to identifying Payne’s body.

There is no indication of what Payne might have done for a living or where he considered home, Whitney said.

Police located a daughter of Payne’s in California, although as of Friday no one had claimed the body. Attempts to locate the daughter for comment were unsuccessful.

Richard Gomez, director of the Lighthouse Mission, said transients like Payne make up the bulk of the homeless he assists with lodging and food. He said he was not aware of meeting the deceased.

Transients often have been living the life so long they don’t know anything else.

“Sometimes they want help, some times they don’t,” Gomez said.

“Some homeless people, they just live by themselves so long that they just live on the streets because they think that’s the way life is supposed to be.”

Maria Cardonita, whose husband works at a restaurant near Wal-Mart, said she gave Payne money on several occasions.

She said he seemed nice and she was touched by his concern for a dog that was his constant companion. “Before he ate, he made sure his dog did.”

She said she would often give him $10 or $20 each time she saw him when the weather turned cold.

“I wish I was able to do more for him,” she said, explaining as young parents, she and her husband understand financial hardship. “If I were in that situation, I would want someone to help me.”