When coastal North Carolina authorities found the nearly mummified corpse of an elderly woman in a bed where her family had hidden it for seven months, they thought they might have a homicide case.
Now officials say they're collecting evidence to charge 87-year-old Blanche Matilda Roth's daughter with fraud. They say Amy Stewart continued to receive Roth's benefits after she died in June.
They also revealed in a search warrant what they found when they entered the Wilmington home on Dec. 15: Roth's nearly mummified body in a bed covered by blankets in a room with multiple containers of air freshener.
Authorities have charged 47-year-old Stewart with concealing a corpse in the house she shared with her family. Stewart is free on bond.
New Hanover County Sheriff's Office spokesman Charles Smith said Stewart continued to receive unspecified benefits after her mother died in June. Investigators seized bank statements, checks and other financial documents. The sheriff's office expects to file fraud-related charges, Smith said.
A search warrant from the sheriff's office said deputies were prepared to investigate a homicide before searching Stewart's home. But officials say the medical examiner has ruled out foul play and the case is no longer considered a homicide.
The warrant says Stewart's mother-in-law, Catherine Stewart, found Roth's body last week when she came to the house with her husband to check on the woman. Stewart's father-in-law called 911 and told an operator that Roth's body was in the house. An EMS worker discovered Roth's body "in an advanced state of decomposition to the point of mummification."
Deputies collected deodorizers and air fresheners from the bedroom including a can of Oust Air Sanitizer, boxes of Arm & Hammer Odor Eliminator, an empty bottle of Febreze and an empty box of Arm & Hammer Pet Fresh. Investigators founds insects, rocks and a white powder in the bed with the body.
Authorities have confirmed that Amy Stewart, her husband and three children, ages, 15, 17 and 23, live at the house.