CLOVER, South Carolina (CNN) — A disturbing discovery has been made at a South Carolina home.
Deputies were doing a welfare check at the house in Clover, S.C. when they found three bodies inside, two of the victims died years ago.
Police said one person died by suicide in July, while the other two died from natural causes back in 2015 and 2016.
April Kay thumbed through the old pictures of the cousin she called Thomas Gardner.. family members called him “Stephen.”
“He was a sweet little boy,” Kay said. “All of his life.”
She said he lived with a mother who other family members dreaded because of her dependency on alcohol.
“It wasn’t fear of what crazy things she might say,” Kay said. “It was fear of what crazy thing she might do.”
Family members said Thomas’ mother, Sue Gardner, might even answer the door with a gun.
Sue Gardner lived in a home with her sister Ruth, until Sue died in 2015.
That’s when Ruth called Stephen, who did not live in the home, but with a girlfriend an hour away.
“Don’t tell anybody or tell anybody. They might put me in a nursing home and I won’t have my choices anymore,” Kay said, paraphrasing what Ruth told Stephen.
So Stephen, who depended heavily on these two women, kept his mother’s body in the house, keeping a disturbing secret.
Ruth lived for six months in the home with the body, but then she, too, died.
“He lost somebody he loved so much that was close to him,” Kay said. “I think he just broke emotionally. I think it shattered him so much emotionally.”
So Stephen continued to keep Ruth’s secret.
He kept both women’s bodies in the house.
For three years, he visited regularly, using their social security checks to pay bills and keep up appearances.
“Maybe somewhere in that emotional break he thought, ‘They might come back if I do what I’m supposed to do.’ But I think he realized at some point they weren’t going to,” Kay said.
Stephen shot himself in that same home this past July.
His family doesn’t blame him.
“He was not bad person,” Kay said. “He was not a monster. He was not evil. He was just trying to figure out how to take care of his family.”
Investigators said there is no indication of foul play. They said the case is closed and no charges will be filed.