US widow lives with corpses of husband, twin

Taking on death

US widow lives with corpses of husband, twin

Jean Stevens, 91, holds a photograph from the 1940s of  herself and her late husband, James, outside her home. AP

No matter 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 said. As state police finish their investigation into a singularly macabre case — 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 last October. But their bodies are with the Bradford County coroner now, off-limits to the woman who loved them best.

From time to time, stories of exhumed bodies are reported, but rarely do those involved offer an explanation. Jean Stevens, seems more grandmother than ghoul. She knows what people must think of her. But she had her reasons, and they are complicated, a bit sad, and in their own peculiar way, sweet.

Jean and James got married in 1942. He succumbed to Parkinson’s disease on May 21, 1999. In many ways, Jean shared a closer bond with her twin than her husband. Though June lived more than 200 miles away, they talked by phone several times a week, and June wrote often. Then, last year, June was diagnosed with cancer. She was in a lot of pain when Jean came to visit. The sisters shared a bed, and Jean rubbed her back. On October 3, June died. She was buried in her sister’s backyard — but not for long. She kept her sister, who was dressed in her “best housecoat,” on an old couch. “I’d go in, and I’d talk, and I’d forget,” Stevens said.

She offered a similar rationale for keeping her husband on a couch. “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.”

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