Halloweek Day 1, Episode 8: In general, crime is often difficult to understand. It’s natural to try and derive meaning from horrific events to make sense of the chaotic world around us.
Channeling the spookiness of Halloween, each day this week a new episode of the Missing and Murdered in the Midwest podcast is dissecting a true crime case that seems like an unbelievable scary movie.
From The Mummy in Knoxville to the unsolved case of The Tattooed Lady, all five episodes dissect horrifying true crimes that may have been forgotten.
Grab a blanket, some candy corn and light a fire as these episodes are sure to scare.
KNOXVILLE, Illinois– It doesn’t take as long as you would think for a corpse to become a mummy. There are only five stages of corpse decomposition and, depending on the environment, a body can become mummified in merely 70 days.
But Carole Stevens spent nearly a decade tending to her husband Carl’s corpse, truly believing he was still alive.
Carole and Carl Stevens were married in 1966. A true Midwestern, Knox County nuclear family, they had two children, a boy and a girl named Craig and Cindy.
During this time period, the mid-1900s saw the rise of the Manson Family which led to multiple murders and the People’s Temple which led to the Jonestown Massacre. Like most of America, Carole and Carl had heard about cults, or a fringe group of people who are often followers of a belief system or a leader.
It wasn’t very long before Carl’s brother wrapped him up in the “holistic movement” that led to his likely painful and prolonged death.
Roger Stevens introduced his brother Carl, who was working as a dentist, to the “Holistic Society” in the late 1970s. The group was made of a few other dentists from around the Chicago area and would later be dubbed a medical, cult.
The group had a disdain for traditional medical practices, relying instead on an extreme form of natural health care in which the mind and body are treated with natural vitamins, herbs, nutrients and specialized diets.
As a type one diabetic, insulin was the only way Carl could live a normal, healthy life, yet he was persuaded to only rely on vitamins and powdered mixes, in place of his daily injections. Despite extreme risks to his health, Carl gets Carole and the rest of the family involved with the Holistic Society soon after joining.
It’s unclear how long these alternative tactics could have worked for Carl, but it could have been anywhere from a week to 10 days.
His eventual death would be difficult. He likely began urinating constantly, becoming dehydrated and suffering from abdominal pain, vomiting and feeling achy. His brain would have begun to swell causing headaches.
Ultimately, he fell into a diabetic shock on May 12, 1979 and died face down on the floor of his bedroom at 40 years of age where his wife Carole found his body.
A registered nurse, she said the signs of death she was trained to look for weren’t present.
“From the very beginning something inside me told me he wasn’t gone and that’s why I continued to take care of him,” she said. “I rolled him over onto his back and he stayed on the floor – as if he were in a coma – for two months.”
That’s when Carl’s body started to swell and a black liquid seeped out of his nose and mouth. His body shrank to just skin and bones and turned a blackish brown color.
Propped up in a chair in the basement, Carl’s corpse deteriorated even further. Carole would eventually move the body to a bed in the house, periodically changing its clothes and bedding.
Richard Kunce, a leader in the Holistic Society, knew Carl was dead as Carole invited him over to the house once a month.
He said the body was “totally black” in May 1980, but that Carole was “putting liquid vitamins in his belly button,” the only part that wasn’t darkened.
By 1985 Carl’s body had naturally mummified, yet Carole continued to insist her husband was alive. She said he had sporadic heart beats and took breaths despite his skin discoloring from brown and black, to an orange-brown color and finally beige.
Throughout this entire time, Carole and Carl’s children were completely unaware their father was dead.
By the mid-80s, Craig and Cindy were teenagers and doing fine in school, according to teachers. They didn’t really have a lot of friends and would only eat or drink at home, overall not bad for living in a house with a corpse.
The secret started to unravel around Thanksgiving of 1987.
Curt Poutsch went to the Stevens’ house wondering what had happened to his uncle Carl, but barred from going into the bedroom where Carl’s body was, he came back with police.
At the end of January 1988, Carole finally let police and Curt into the bedroom where Carl’s corpse was tucked into a neat, clean, well-made bed. Dressed in pajama pants, but no shirt, Curt said “[Carl] was all dried out but his beautiful red hair was unmistakable. His skin was drawn tight around his body like leather.”
Carole would spend 12 days in jail and two years on probation for failing to report a death and falsifying Carl’s name on documents to refinance the mortgage on the Stevens’ home.
Back in 1989 there wasn’t a law that said what Carole did was totally wrong as there’s a general misconception that you have to immediately get rid of a body from a home.
For years, Carl Stevens’ corpse was taken care of. Some people could say it was cruel, others would say it’s just crazy. When you mix your beliefs with grief, a lot can happen.
Click here to listen to this episode on Spotify where we look deeper into the cult that led to Carl Steven’s death and the people involved.
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Editor’s note: In a previous version of this story it incorrectly said the Stevens family lived in Galesburg. Knoxville is about six miles southeast of Galesburg.