The brick and white clapboard house in East Feliciana, Louisiana, looked like any other home on the quiet street.
The couple who lived in it, Clay and Sheila Fletcher, were known by their neighbours and often seen coming and going; apparently leading a normal existence as they went to and from work, the shops and to church.
Nobody could have guessed the horror that lay within those walls.
The innocent looking house had in fact become a tomb to their 36-year-old daughter, Lacey Fletcher, who perished in horrific circumstances.
Lacey died where she lived; on a filthy couch in the couple’s sitting room. Her body rotted where it lay, soaked in urine, faeces and other bodily fluids, enmeshed in a couch that had become infested with maggots.
Her corpse was discovered in January 2022 when Sheila called the East Feliciana Parish 911 service to tell them that her daughter had stopped breathing. The paramedics and officers who arrived at the home were appalled by the scene they found.
WBRZ’s chief investigative reporter Chris Nakamoto told Fox News: ‘It was just an extraordinary situation. When paramedics showed up at her house, they found her literally melted into the couch covered in faeces, looking like her hair hadn’t been brushed for years, totally neglected… She was literally fused to the couch. This is while her parents were coming and going living normal lives.
‘When we spoke with the coroner, he said “I deal with death every day. And this is something that I can’t even get out of my head. The smell was just awful.”’
The overpowering stench forced him back out of the house where he threw up in the front yard, Nakamoto said.
Even more disturbingly, the wooden floor beneath the couch was buckling from the weight of bodily fluids and Lacey’s autopsy found sofa material and faeces in her stomach. Emergency workers and investigators who attended said the stench permeating through the house was a smell they will never forget.
Nakamoto added: ‘In the 16 years that I’ve covered news here in the Baton Rouge community, I’ve never seen anything like it… When you think that another human being could leave a loved one or a family member in this type of condition. It really makes you just question what was going on with them.’
Sheila and Clay Fletcher, who initially faced second-degree murder charges, pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of manslaughter this week. The horrific case sent shockwaves across the world ever since their daughter – who they claimed ‘they ‘loved to death’ – was discovered two years ago.
Lacey was a normal child, into Disney movies and volleyball, playing with neighbouring children and attending the local school. But when she was 14, she started retreating from the world and her parents started homeschooling her.
Neighbour Robert Blades, 59, told DailyMail.com that he last saw Lacey exercising outside her house more than a decade before. Other neighbours assumed she had married and moved away.
But according to the Fletchers, Lacey’s social anxiety and Asperger’s syndrome caused her to refuse to leave the living room, and then the couch. They told prosecutors they provided her with meals and had made a makeshift potty for her, but she would use the couch or a towel instead. They also said she had a neurological disorder called “locked-in syndrome”, but East Feliciana Parish coroner Dr Ewell Dewitt Bickham III, refuted this.
Bickham said: ‘I don’t know where that term came from or what source it came from. In all my years as a practising physician I have never heard of that term.
Lacey, who weighed just 98lbs when she died, had been totally neglected and Bickham recorded the cause of death as starvation – among other factors.
The neglect let to chronic malnutrition, acute starvation, immobility, acute ulcer formation and osteomyelitis, a bone infection which led finally to sepsis, Bickham told Louisiana news channel WAFB, and he concluded she had been on the couch for at least 12 years.
Reports of photographs taken after Lacey’s death – too graphic to be published – make for disturbing reading.
Lacey was found almost buried up to her shoulders in a hole in the couch apparently made by her emaciated body over the years. Naked apart from a small t-shirt, her face is covered in large, red blotches and excrement is smeared all over her body and in her matted hair.
Her body is covered in sores, so deep that bone was visible, with the forensic pathologist reporting ‘maggots embedded in the exposed surface of the bones’, according to the Daily Mail.
Despite this, Lacey’s parents never meant to harm their daughter, Steven Moore, the couple’s attorney, insisted.
Speaking outside the courtroom following the conviction, he said: ‘They were negligent, yes. It is clear they were negligent. They loved her to death… When you look back at it, you wonder, why? How could this happen? It did happen. But at no point did Sheila or Clay Fletcher ever have a single intent to harm their daughter. They loved their daughter to a fault.
‘Anyone with handicapped children can tell you those things can happen. This is an extreme example of how that happens. They have taken responsibility. Now they look back they can’t believe they got to the position they’re in,’ Moore added.
‘They are good people who have never been in trouble in their life. They are great members of this community, people came to support them, because that is not who they are. They are not criminals. They are on bond because they are not a danger to anybody in this community. They have never been a danger to the community.’
‘The things that happened to Lacey are horrible. But they cared for her daily. Sheila Fletcher would come home at lunch every day to care and eat lunch with her daughter every single day. She slept on the couch, with her daughter every night,’ the Daily Mail reported.
Despite all this, questions remain. How could any human allow another to die in such a horrific way; let alone supposedly loving parents. And with so much support available, why did the Fletchers never seek help?
Sheila worked for the authorities; as police and court clerk in Baker and more recently as an assistant to the city prosecutor. And when one neighbour asked how Fletcher’s daughter was, he reportedly said she was fine and changed the subject.
As Bickham told WAFB news, medical records showed that Lacey Fletcher did not have a primary care physician.
‘In 2010, the parents went to the doctor’s office without Lacey and asked his advice on what to do,’ he said. ‘She is increasingly not wanting to leave the house, not wanting to leave the sofa, just totally recluse.’
Bickham said the doctor told her parents to bring their daughter to the hospital, yet she was never admitted and no treatment was provided. ‘The Fletchers were meant to be her caregivers. It’s unconscionable, something you make horror movies about,’ he added.
When Bickham arrived at the house on that horrific day in January two years ago, he said: ‘The parents were in the kitchen. They did not have an explanation. I couldn’t eat for a week and I cried for a week.’
The Fletchers, now on bail, must wait to hear their fate. Prosecutors are seeking a maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars at the hearing scheduled for March 20.
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