Why we are so fascinated by people who want to have sex with dead bodies John Troyer, The Conversation (July 03, 2014) Three days into…
June 29, 2011
Arlington Cemetery’s Mishandling of Remains Prompts FBI Criminal Probe Jerry Markon and Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (June 29, 2011) The Justice Department is investigating…
March 31, 2011
Warner to Introduce Bill to Revoke Reserved Plots at Arlington Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 30, 2011) A quick update on Arlington National Cemetery…
March 21, 2011
Arlington Cemetery Struggles with Old Reservations Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 21, 2011) Officials at Arlington National Cemetery — still unable to fully account…
March 12, 2011
For First Time in Decades, Arlington National Cemetery Must Bury Multiple ‘Unknowns’ Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (March 06, 2011) When the remains of a…
January 20, 2011
Happy Homecoming for Widow Who Lived with Corpses Authorities found out and took the embalmed corpses away. She is having a mausoleum built on her…
December 28, 2010
Restoring Arlington Cemetery Washington Post Editorial Board (December 27, 2010) What does it mean to restore accountability in the nation’s cemetery? This is a good,…
October 30, 2010
Portrait Emerges of Woman Whose Mummified Body was Found in Car Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times (October 28, 2010) Last week I wrote about a…
October 22, 2010
Woman Drove Around With Mummified Body Salvador Hernandez and Greg Hardesty, The Orange County Register (October 22, 2010) I am a little surprised that only…
September 25, 2010
2 Bodies Found in Wrong Plots at Arlington Cemetery Christian Davenport, Washington Post (September 15, 2010) Arlington National Cemetery officials discovered that two people were…
August 3, 2010
At Arlington Cemetery, Years of Problems Aaron C. Davis and Michael E. Ruane, The Washington Post (July 26, 2010) Arlington Cemetery Problems were Documented…
July 8, 2010
Widow Lives with Corpses of Husband, Twin
Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press (July 05, 2010)
DA: Woman can Keep Corpses in Crypt
Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press (July 07, 2010)
No charges yet for disinterring her kin
I am going to guess that more than a few people saw this story earlier in the week. It’s a classic dead-bodies-are-so-creepy narrative, which is made all the better because the story involves a totally normal, lovely old woman who kept said corpses in her home.
In this particular case, it was 91-year-old Jean Stevens keeping her dead husband in the garage and her dead sister in the spare bedroom. Here is the real shocker: these situations are not uncommon. They pop up from time-to-time with the usual macabre sense of horror and fascination. Indeed, when I was a child in Cincinnati, OH an older woman who lived in my neighborhood kept her dead father in the house for months. A whole army of children watched as the police went into the house and eventually wheeled out the dead man on a gurney (covered in a sheet), coughing from the smell.
What is slightly different about this Pennsylvania case is this: the dead bodies in question were embalmed, buried in their graves, and then exhumed for Jean Stevens. Who or whom did the exhuming has not been revealed. She then placed the bodies above ground.
I give Stevens credit for keeping both bodies undiscovered for a number of years. It also looks like Stevens was/is next-of-kin for both her husband and sister, which means that she had/has the legal right to determine final disposition for the dead bodies. She was fine until she had the bodies disinterred and moved to her home. This would be why the District Attorney is saying that Stevens can build a crypt on her property which could then be used for the husband and sister.
The DA is in a tight spot here, too, because he is talking about using Pennsylvania’s Abuse of Corpse law to charge Stevens with a misdemeanor. Here is that law:
Pennsylvania Statute: 5510. Abuse of Corpse.
Except as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.
In case you are wondering, this is the same law used to charge people with necrophilia related crimes.
Which brings me to the following point. Without a doubt, Stevens improperly exhumed two different dead bodies and then improperly kept both bodies above ground. What I’m not so clear on is whether she outraged ordinary family sensibilities. I say this because it is clear that Jean Stevens committed these incomprehensible acts out of both love and grief. Furthermore, if she’s the last family member on the planet then whose ‘family’ is being outraged? These are philosophical arguments that don’t necessarily stand firm before the law.
That said, I expect that the DA won’t actually pursue misdemeanor charges. If he’s smart, he’ll help Stevens raise money for the crypt.
Macabre as this story initially sounds, it’s a useful lesson on how the law sees death in contradistinction to how family members do the same. Besides it not nearly as gruesome as this other Pennsylvania corpse story.
Alas, and unfortunately, most of the reporting uses the easiest hooks and angles. The WNET-TV nightly news video at the top is a perfect example.
Widow Lives with Corpses of Husband, Twin Michael Rubinkam, The Associated Press (July 05, 2010) DA: Woman can Keep Corpses in Crypt Michael Rubinkam,…