Authorities initially suspected carbon monoxide poisoning and hustled firefighters to the scene. But after evacuating neighbors and airing out the house, firefighters ruled out carbon monoxide and other toxic gases, fire spokesman Peter Crespo said.
Yesterday, police remained stumped about who or what killed the Perrys and officially described the case as "sudden deaths."
Officer Jillian Russell, a police spokeswoman, said the couple both had facial injuries, but investigators found no other telltale signs of foul play. Autopsy results won't likely be available until at least today.
"It's so shocking. It's a mystery," said Michele Leach, 49, daughter of Rufus Perry and stepdaughter of Algladis.
Rufus, 79, a retired sanitation worker, had lived in the two-story, redbrick rowhouse since 1960, said Renee Ross, his eldest daughter. Algladis, 66, moved in there in 1970 when they married, Ross added.
They met at Hahnemann University Hospital, where Rufus worked a second job in the dietary unit and Algladis studied nursing and then worked as a nurse for 40 years before retiring. Together, they had one daughter, Keya, although Rufus had four other daughters and a son from a previous marriage, Ross said.
The couple were the aunt and uncle of Donald Carlton, deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Streets Department.
"They were very hardworking people," Carlton said yesterday. "They were a very cordial and private family. Algladis was the matriarch and eldest of 12 siblings, whom the family depended on for wisdom and support."
Vernon Richardson said his uncle hung out in his basement a lot.
"That was his domain," said Richardson, 57, of North Philadelphia. "He would go down there and listen to his oldies, drink a little beer."
The couple liked to go out for dinner and movies and often watched TV in their living room, Ross said. The television was still on yesterday morning, playing a black-and-white movie, as a police cruiser idled at the curb guarding the still-open house.
Nearby, Ross, Richardson and other relatives gathered to mourn and mull the mystery of the couple's deaths.
Richardson said he last saw his aunt on July 10 at Broad and Walnut streets in Center City, where she waited to catch a bus home.
Next-door neighbor Chanel Bundy, 26, said she last saw Rufus Perry about 4 p.m. Wednesday, when he retrieved a package from his porch.
Bundy doubted a killer would have targeted the reclusive couple: "They don't bother nobody." Besides, she added, "They don't open the door for strangers."
The couple never argued, relatives said.
And besides Rufus Perry's "bad legs," they were in good health for their age, the relatives agreed.
"We just don't understand what happened," Ross said. "They both was loving people, always extra-friendly and [would] help you with anything. This makes no sense."
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