With corpses kept in her home, family is gone but not forgotten
WYALUSING, Pa. — The 91year-old widow lived by herself in a tumbledown house on a desolate country road. But she wasn’t alone, not really, not as long as she could visit her husband and twin sister.
No matter that they were already dead. Jean Stevens simply had their embalmed corpses dug up and stored them at her house — in the case of her late husband, for more than a decade — tending to the remains as best she could until police were finally tipped off last month. Much to her dismay. “Death is very hard for me to take,” Stevens told an interviewer.
As state police finish their investigation into the macabre case — no charges have been filed — Stevens wishes she could be reunited with James Stevens, her husband of nearly 60 years who died in 1999, and June Stevens, the twin who died in October. But their bodies are with the Bradford County coroner now.
From time to time, stories of exhumed bodies are reported, but rarely do those involved offer an explanation. Jean Stevens, seeming more grandmother than ghoul, holds little back as she describes what happened outside this small town in northern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains.
James Stevens died of Parkinson’s disease on May 21, 1999, and was buried in a nearby cemetery.
June Stevens, who had been married to James’ brother, was diagnosed with cancer last summer. She was in a lot of pain when Stevens came to visit. On Oct. 3, June Stevens died. She was buried in her sister’s backyard — but not for long.
“I think when you put them in the (ground), that’s goodbye, goodbye,” Stevens said. “In this way, I could touch her and look at her and talk to her.”
She kept her sister, who was dressed in her “best housecoat,” on an old couch in a spare room off the bedroom. Stevens sprayed her with expensive perfume that was June Stevens’ favorite.
“I’d go in, and I’d talk, and I’d forget,” Stevens said. “I put glasses on her. When I put the glasses on, it made all the difference in the world. I would fix her up. I’d fix her face up all the time.”
She offered a similar rationale for keeping her husband on a couch in the detached garage.
“I could see him, I could look at him, I could touch him. 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.”
Part of her worries: that after death, there’s … nothing. She is ambivalent about God and the afterlife.
“I don’t always go to church, but I want to believe,” Stevens Jean Stevens, 91, holds a photo of herself and her husband, James. He died in 1999, and she kept his exhumed corpse and that of her sister, June Stevens, at left, in their home. said.
Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a psychiatry professor at UCLA who researches how the elderly view death and dying, said people who aren’t particularly spiritual or religious often have a difficult time with death. For them, “death doesn’t exist,” she said. “They deny death.”
Stevens, she said, “came up with a very extreme expression of it. … She’s beating death by bringing them back.”
There was another reason that Stevens wanted them above ground.
She is severely claustrophobic and so was her sister. So, she said, she had them dug up, both within days of burial.
She managed to escape detection for a long time. The neighbors who mowed her lawn and took her shopping either didn’t know or didn’t tell. Stevens is vague when asked about who exhumed the bodies. She blames a relative of her late husband’s for calling the authorities.
“I think that is dirty, rotten,” she said.