By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — Two women who were arrested for allegedly keeping a dead man’s body in an ice chest for months after he died, have been additionally charged with theft, after Sheriff’s Office investigators determined they had been using the man’s Social Security checks for over two years.
St. Tammany Sheriff’s Spokesman Capt. George Bonnett said this week that the investigation into the fraud by the two women was recently completed by Det. Randy Loumiet, who determined the women had been keeping the Social Security funds from Charles Fisher, and transferring the money into one of their bank accounts.
Debra Fisher, 58, and Heidi Todd, 44, were arrested in March, 2012 after Sheriff’ Office detectives were called out to their apartment, located at 176 S. Military Road. Maintenance men had been denied access to their apartment to perform routine work. When they were finally allowed in the house, the stench was so overwhelming that they called authorities.
Sheriff’s detectives discovered the body of Charles Fisher, 83, in a large ice chest in the house, with his hands cut off and put in the freezer.
Debra Fisher was charged with mutilating or disinterring human remains and one count of unlawful disposal of remains. Todd was charged with one count of unlawful disposal of remains.
Authorities suspected the women kept the body in the house so they could continue to live on the Social Security checks, and this week, Bonnett confirmed investigators believe that was the case.
Charles Fisher was getting a monthly check of $1,315, which was directly deposited into his checking account. Debra Fisher and Todd would electronically transfer the funds into Debra Fisher’s account and use for their monthly expenses, Bonnett said.
The total that Sheriff’s Office officials accounted for in the fraudulent activity was $33,974.60, covering just over 25 months.
While the women were allegedly keeping Debra Fisher’s fathers death a secret to use his Social Security funds, St. Tammany Coroner Dr. Peter Galvan told The Slidell Independent that an investigation at the apartment by his staff revealed obvious signs of a hoarding disorder by the women.
“The apartment was clearly occupied by people who had a hoarding disorder. There was extreme clutter everywhere, with things stacked up in every room to the point of being unable to even get around,” he said. “Hoarders keep everything—pieces of paper, broken things, rotten food—it’s a serious mental disorder.”
Galvan said the apartment had “a putrid odor from the decaying body, as well as rotten food all over,” he said. “But when you live in that environment for a long time, the smell of everything together may not be noticed, even though it was overpowering to anyone else who came in.”
Galvan has been at the forefront of the St. Tammany effort to provide more mental health services at a time when Hurricane Katrina led to a loss of providers. He has dealt with hundreds of mental health cases in his career as a doctor and the parish coroner, but said this case was like something he had never seen.
“This was so shocking—the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I thought of the word ‘ghoulish’ when thinking about the case.
Galvan believes the case again points out the great need for more mental health services in the parish, something that took a turn for the worse last week when federal officials announced Southeast Louisiana Mental Hospital in Mandeville would be closed due to state budget cuts.
“This story drives home the point that we need to do more to help people with these problems,” he said. “This is not about the Sheriff’s Office not arresting people, or the Coroner’s Office not committing people with problems. It’s about having a system that ensures treatment and followup, especially for those who don’t have insurance or can’t afford it.”