A sheriff’s deputy discovered the remains of a 90-year-old woman on a toilet in a house she shared with a woman and two children, authorities said Friday.
Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth charged 35-year-old Tammy Lewis and 57-year-old Alan Bushey (pronounced “boo-SHAY”) with two felony counts of being a party to causing mental harm to a child. Lewis was also charged with obstructing an officer, a misdemeanor.
By Friday night, the children had been placed in foster care, both adults remained in custody and an autopsy had been done but results won’t be available for some time, said Sheriff Brent Oleson.
“At this time we don’t know what the cause of death was,” he said. “Quite frankly it might have been natural causes.”
He described the one-story home in the town of Necedah as in decent repair, although the residents had been using “makeshift” toilet facilities because of the situation in the one bathroom.
“It’s a sad case and we’ll continue to investigate it and try to ascertain just what occurred up there,” Oleson said.
According to the criminal complaint, Bernice Metz contacted the Juneau County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday and asked if a deputy could check on her 90-year-old sister, Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth. Metz said no one had heard from Middlesworth for some time.
When Deputy Leigh Neville-Neil arrived at the house, she encountered Lewis, also known as Sister Mary Bernadett, the complaint said. Lewis initially refused to allow the deputy to check on Middlesworth, telling her Middlesworth was on vacation and saying she had to check with her “superior” first.
But she eventually let the deputy in.
The house smelled of incense and burnt wood, had religious materials everywhere and also had hymns playing on the stereo, according to the complaint.
As the deputy opened doors in the house, Lewis again told her Middlesworth wasn’t home.
When the deputy opened the last closed door, she smelled “decaying matter” and noticed something piled on what appeared to be a toilet, and Lewis told her it was Middlesworth’s body, the complaint said.
The deputy ordered Lewis’ children — a 15-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy — out of the house because of the stench. Lewis and the children began crying hysterically outside.
Lewis told the deputy Middlesworth died about two months earlier, but God told her Middlesworth would come to life if she prayed hard enough.
She said she couldn’t say anything more until she spoke with her “superior” Bushey, also known as Bishop John Peter Bushey.
When Bushey arrived, Lewis told the deputy Middlesworth appeared to pass out while Lewis was helping her into her underwear.
She said she had propped Middlesworth on the toilet and left the room to call Bushey, who told her to leave the woman be and pray for her, the complaint said. He said he had received signs from God that God would raise her from the dead with a miracle.
Lewis went on to say she thought Middlesworth was still breathing when she put her on the toilet and called Bushey rather than an ambulance. She later told a detective she put the woman on the toilet on March 4.
The boy told a detective on Thursday he referred to Middlesworth as “grandmother,” although the complaint doesn’t explain whether Middlesworth was related to anyone in the home. The boy said he considered running away because he was uncomfortable with the situation.
The boy said Bushey told him Middlesworth looked bad because demons were trying to make it look like she wouldn’t come back to life, and if she were to be discovered he and the girl would have to go to public school and get jobs because Middlesworth paid the bills.
The sheriff told The Associated Press that Middlesworth and Lewis lived at the residence with the children since fall of 2004, and Bushey lived in another residence. He declined to describe the relationship between the children and the adults, to protect the identity of the children.
Middlesworth was not related to Bushey, he said.
“She believed in the same faith as self-proclaimed Bishop Bushey and that was the connection there,” he said.
Oleson said he had no further information on Bushey’s religious affiliation.
Bushey and Lewis are scheduled to make an initial court appearance May 19.
The sheriff said cash bond was set Friday at $50,000 each, but Lewis was allowed to post 10 percent for her release.
Computerized state court records had no attorney listed as yet for them.