State News

More charges expected in hidden-corpse case

Posted December 17, 2009 11:38 a.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2009 7:02 p.m. EST

— New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon said Thursday that investigators expect to file more charges in the case of an elderly woman whose body was concealed in a Wilmington home for months after her death.

Amy Blanche Stewart, 45, of 612 Cherry Laurel Court, was charged Wednesday with concealing a dead body, a felony. She made her initial court appearance Thursday morning and asked for a court-appointed defense attorney.

Deputies responded to the family's home Tuesday after receiving a 911 call and found the body of Stewart's 88-year-old mother, Blanche Matilda Roth, in a bedroom.

McMahon declined to say who called 911.

An unidentified man told the 911 dispatcher that the woman died in her bed and needed to be taken to the morgue.

"How long ago did this happen?" the dispatcher asked about her death.

"I don't know. I'm going to say a month," the man said.

"You believe that she passed away a month ago, but she's still in the house," the dispatcher asked.

Authorities estimate Roth died in May. A preliminary autopsy hasn't determined a cause of death, but McMahon said there was no evidence of foul play.

"When you hear something like this, your first reaction is, 'It can't be true.' You go through all the emotions, (thinking) how can a family member do something like this?" he said.

Stewart, who was released on bond, declined to comment on the charges. A man who answered the door at the family's home also declined to comment.

McMahon said it appears the death wasn't reported for financial reasons, noting the family continued to collect Roth's Social Security checks and other benefits in recent months.

Neighbors said Stewart, her husband and three children, ages 23, 17 and 15, have lived in a single-story home at the end of a cul-de-sac in a middle-class neighborhood in north Wilmington for about three years. Stewart's husband is in a wheelchair, and she doesn't have a job so she can stay home and care for him, according to neighbors.

Neighbors said they never suspected anything was wrong at the house, but one nearby resident, Benjamin Kenner, said the family had many visitors.

"I see a lot of people coming and going – cars, different cars, coming and going at all times of the night," Kinner said.

In addition to possibly charging others in the family with concealing Roth's death, McMahon said, Stewart could be charged with fraud in the case.