Estate of woman whose body was left on toilet sues over property she deeded to religious sect

Wisconsin State Journal/May 30, 2009

The estate of an elderly devout woman who died and was left to decompose for two months on the commode in a Necedah home has sued to get possession of that property, which she paid for but deeded to members of the religious sect to which she belonged.

Members did not notify authorities of her death because they were waiting for her resurrection, they said.

The lawsuit, filed May 5 in Juneau County Circuit Court, asks that two properties the woman paid for be returned to her estate, and that six church members - including the "bishop" who was convicted of hiding the woman’s corpse - lose ownership interests.

Randall Nash, lawyer for the estate, said Wednesday he has spoken with most of the parties in the lawsuit and it appears a settlement will be worked out.

The remains of Alvina Magdaline Middlesworth, 90, were found by sheriff’s deputies in the bathroom of a home at 5472 Shrine Road in Necedah more than a year ago. Middlesworth had been recruited from the state of Washington to join the tiny congregation in Necedah, a mecca of religious splinter groups.

Alan Bushey, also known as Bishop John Peter Bushey, pleaded no contest in February to telling one of his followers, Tammy Lewis, to hide Middlesworth’s corpse. Bushey, evicted from his church building and now living in one of the disputed properties, awaits sentencing. Lewis entered into a deferred prosecution agreement.

In the civil lawsuit, Bushey and Lewis are named as defendants along with Elizabeth Kohles, Carol Cowles, Jack Tersteeg, and Carol Newland, all former members of Bushey’s church.

The lawsuit says Bushey directed that Middlesworth buy the property at 5472, then have the title held by Lewis, Kohles, Cowles and Tersteeg as joint-tenants, though none of them paid anything for those interests.

Similar charges are made for the property at 5453 Shrine Road, where Bushey now lives. In 2006 and 2007 Bushey told Middlesworth to pay off an existing mortgage on the property, about 80 percent of its value, and directed the title to be made out to Newland, Middlesworth, Lewis and Kohles.

Middlesworth, a widow, was a longtime member of St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church in Monroe, Wash., which she left without notice in the fall of 2005. She was brought to Necedah by Lewis, church officials in Washington said in interviews last year. Lewis and her two children eventually moved into a house with Middlesworth, the property at 5472 Shrine Road. According to Juneau County land records, Middlesworth bought that house and 2.5 acres from Hilltop Family Trust, of Hazelton, Iowa. The property was valued at $78,200.

(Hilltop Family Trust was the owner of the church’s chapel, a converted house valued at $134,000 which was sold at auction, along with its contents, last fall.)

The lawsuit notes that Lewis has "renounced her interest and has agreed to transfer her interest to the estate." The estate administrator, Richard Mett, a nephew of Middlesworth, was not available for comment.

One of the defendants, Jack Tersteeg, of Blomkest, Minn., said Wednesday he was unaware "my name was on that house."

The lawsuit asks for unspecified money damages and that the properties be declared part of Middlesworth’s estate.

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