Death of Medford woman found in recycling bin ruled accidental, family does not accept ME’s finding

MEDFORD, Mass. — The Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office has ruled the May 2022 death of 61-year-old Barbara Novaes was accidental, but her family is not accepting that finding.

On May 23, 2022, Barbara Novaes’ body was found in a recycling bin behind her home at 21 Emery St. in Medford.

Boston 25 News has obtained Novaes’ death certificate, which reveals the Medical Examiner’s finding that Novaes’ death was accidental, caused by positional asphyxia.

Under the heading describing how the injured occurred, the medical examiner wrote, “Fell into recycling bin and became wedged.”

The death certificate finds “chronic ethanolism” (alcoholism) as a significant condition which contributed to Novaes’ death, but not an underlying cause.

In a statement, Barbara Novaes’ family said it disagreed with the medical examiner’s findings.

“Too many suspicious circumstances, coincidences and unanswered questions remain… Those who knew and loved Barb, cannot accept her death as an accident,” the statement said.

In the weeks before she was found dead, Novaes applied for a restraining order against her estranged husband, claiming he could not accept their divorce and that he put her in fear of imminent serious physical harm.

Novaes asked to withdraw the restraining order six days before her death.

A source told Boston 25 that investigators looked into Novaes’ death and they ran simulations to find out if it was possible that she could have accidentally fallen into the bin.

As part of the investigation, a police officer, roughly the same height and weight as Novaes, fell into the bin, while reaching into it, and then had difficulty getting himself self out of the container, according the source.

As police investigated the circumstances around Novaes’ death, they found no evidence of foul play. Instead, they concluded that Novaes accidentally fell into the recycling bin, and died as she struggled to get back out of it.

Novaes’ family, in its statement, said it appreciates the hard work investigators put into the case, but said ultimately the medical examiner’s findings are unsatisfactory.

“Barb was a community advocate, a joyful neighbor… a tender, loving daughter, sister, aunt friend, and mother…. The time, place, and circumstances surrounding our Barbara’s death leave us with no closure,” the family’s statement said.

The family said police have assured them the case will be reopened if new evidence surfaces.

“In Barbara’s honor, please conduct an act of kindness and remember to always tell those you love just how you feel,” the statement said.

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