Neighbor accused of digging up body for bereaved Pennsylvania twin sister
Posted: Friday, July 23, 2010 8:01 pm
By MARYCLAIRE DALE
Associated Press Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A mystery behind the macabre case of the elderly Pennsylvania woman who kept her beloved, and deceased, sister and husband at home has been partly solved with the filing of misdemeanor charges this week.
Neighbor James Flanagan, 62, admits he dug up the twin sister in October and moved her body inside Jean Stevens’ home in northeastern Pennsylvania, state police said in a complaint. The body had been buried on Stevens’ rural property.
Flanagan faces misdemeanor charges of abuse of a corpse and has also been issued a summons. He did not return a message left at his house Thursday, and no court dates have been set.
Jean Stevens, 91, has not been charged with any crimes for keeping the embalmed corpses in her ramshackle home in Wyalusing. Authorities tipped to the situation discovered the bodies in June. By then, her husband, James, had been dead for more than a decade.
Although police know who dug up the husband’s body from a local cemetery, they say the statute of limitations precludes them from filing charges.
But there have been few cries for harsh punishment for anyone in the letters and e-mails that have arrived in Bradford County since news of the case broke early this month, one official said.
“I think there’s a lot of people that can relate, that you don’t want to let go when you lose somebody,” Bradford County Coroner Thomas M. Carman said Thursday. “It’s amazing the amount of people following this.”
Jean Stevens said she and her twin sister, who married brothers, shared severe claustrophobia. The thought of her loved ones spending eternity in a casket in the ground horrifies her.
“I think when you put them in the (ground), that’s goodbye, goodbye,” Stevens told The Associated Press this year. Instead, she lovingly tended to the bodies, talking to her husband and spritzing her sister with a favorite perfume.
Her sister’s body was kept in a back bedroom and her husband’s in the garage. All the while, she had daily visitors from the tightknit community, Carman said.
The bodies are now in storage at his office while Carman tries to negotiate an acceptable resolution to the surreal dilemma facing him. As a coroner, he knows he must comply with health laws that require bodies to be kept in sealed containers. But he has grown fond of Stevens in recent visits and worries what might happen if a solution is forced on her.
The options include the construction of a mausoleum on her property, perhaps with sealed caskets inside that have glass tops so Stevens can continue to view the bodies. But the cost — perhaps $100,000 or more — may be prohibitive.
“I want to help her, but were going to end up doing something she’s against, and that is sealing Jimmy and June,” the coroner said.
“Everybody has their own way of dealing with death,” he said, a lesson he continues to learn as he reads letters and e-mails sent to both Stevens and him from around the world.
“Death is very hard for me to take,” Stevens told the AP previously.
“Now, some people have a terrible feeling; they say, ‘Why do you want to look at a dead person? Oh, my gracious,”’ she said.
“Well, I felt differently about death.”
Published in The Messenger 7.23.10