Two people have been arrested after a Juneau County sheriff's deputy found one of them and her two children living in a home with the body of a 90-year-old woman decomposing on the bathroom toilet.
Tammy D. Lewis, 35, and Alan A. Bushey, 57, both of Necedah, are each charged with two felony counts of causing mental harm to a child, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday. Lewis also faces one count of obstructing police.
The two, who are also known as Sister Mary Bernadett and Bishop John Peter Bushey, along with the dead woman, Magdeline Alvina Middlesworth, were part of a small church led by Bushey, Juneau County Sheriff's Brent Oleson said.
He said investigators are trying to determine if the other two were defrauding Middlesworth and that future charges against the two are "a very real possibility." He said there is evidence that the woman was providing financial support to the church and to Lewis and her family.
Lewis and Middlesworth were not related, he said, but had been living together with Lewis' 15-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son about 3½ years.
Oleson declined to call the church a cult but said "I guess in my mind I don't know of any faith that sanctioned his teachings."
Bushey had been living in the area about 11 years, Oleson said, did not have outside employment, and had built a chapel on the back of his home, which is about half-mile from where Middlesworth and Lewis were found. He said Bushey's church had few members; only eight were at a Mass about two months ago.
He said Bushey's church was not affiliated with the Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix of Peace Shrine, which is less than a mile from Middlesworth's home. The shrine is not a recognized part of the Catholic Church.
Rowina Arbanas, who lives two houses down from the Lewis home, said she never got to know the family who had been living there for four years.
"I would say hello to them because we're neighbors and that's what neighbors do," she said. "But they would never respond."
Arbanas said she would see Lewis, her children and the elderly woman walking up and down the street doing what looked like, a religious procession. "They always wore pilgrim-like clothes, and the women wore white veils," she said.
"I always thought something was strange over there since nobody seems to know them around here," she said. "That always seemed fishy."
Kevin George, who moved directly across from the Lewis house in February, said his neighbors were very quiet and kept to themselves. He said he saw the elderly woman a few times in the yard, and he would see the children walking down the street on occasion.
Richard Irwin, who has lived next-door to Bushey's chapel for the past 10 years, said that Bushey was shunned by the neighborhood for making "outlandish statements" and for pushing his beliefs and philosophies upon others.
"It was always a church, if you want to call it that," he said of Bushey's chapel. "He tried to associate himself with the (Holy Rosary Mediatrix of Peace) Shrine, but did not have an association."
According to the criminal complaint:
The sheriff's office was asked on Wednesday to check on Middlesworth's welfare by the woman's sister, Bernice Metz, because Metz had not heard from her in "some time."
When a deputy arrived at the home, Lewis initially claimed Middlesworth was on vacation, but after her body was discovered told the deputy that she had been dead for about two months.
Lewis said she had been helping Middlesworth put on an undergarment when she passed out in her arms and she had left her propped on the toilet after Bushey, whom she referred to as her "superior," said to leave her on the toilet and pray.
Lewis told the deputy that "God told her Alvina would come back to life if she prayed hard enough." Bushey told the deputy that "Lewis was obedient and served the Lord just as she should."
The 12-year-old boy later told investigators that after Middlesworth died, Bushey told him her appearance "was the result of demons attempting to make it appear that Alvina would not come back to life." The boy also reportedly said that Bushey told him that if Middlesworth's death was discovered, he and his sister would have to go to public school and get jobs because the woman, whom the boy referred to as his "grandmother," was paying the bills.
The girl made similar statements to investigators, the complaint says.
Both children are in protective custody, Oleson said, and physically healthy. In court appearance Friday, Lewis and Bushey were ordered to have no contact with the children or each other and their bonds were set at $50,000 each.
The complaint states that incense was used to cut down on the stench in the home and that Lewis said she and her children were using a bucket in a closet as a bathroom.
State Journal reporters Sandy Cullen and George Hesselberg, and Juneau County Star Times reporter Amanda Becker contributed to this article.