Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Public safety

Discovery of dead woman in storage unit unearths family's secret

CLEARWATER — When Ann Bunch, a 95-year-old grandmother, died in her nursing home after three heart attacks and a paralyzing stroke, her family took her to a funeral home to prepare her for burial.

Her grandson-in-law built a coffin-like plywood trunk, domed to allow for her dowager's hump. Her family painted it blue, her favorite color.

The family readied a Ford Econoline van for the nine-hour drive to Coloumbiana, Ala., where Bunch, born on New Year's Day 1900, was to be buried alongside her ancestors.

But on Thursday, 17 years later, police peered into a Clearwater U-Stor Self Storage unit stuffed with trash bags and old TVs and found a long blue box. Inside were Bunch's skeletal remains.

The story of what happened — of why Bunch's body was left to decompose in a hot brick storage unit just a short walk from an elementary school — begins with Bunch's granddaughter, Rebecca Ann Fancher.

Fancher, 54, of Clearwater said Friday she learned of Bunch's resting place from her mother last year as she was dying from Stage 4 breast cancer. Bobbie Barnett Hancock told her daughter she had been stopped from burying Bunch by rainstorms and a dysfunctional truck, Fancher said.

Embarrassed and distraught, Hancock stored Bunch in one of the family's storage units, a horrifying secret she kept until she was on her deathbed.

It all unraveled, Fancher said, when U-Stor managers demanding late rent told her they would auction the contents of Unit B8.

"You can't," Fancher recalled telling them. "So far as I know, my grandmother's in one of those units."

Police recovered Bunch's body and found nothing else suspicious, seemingly moving past the revelation of a burial gone horribly wrong.

But Fancher's ex-husband, John Setlow, who built Bunch's casket and now cares for his and Fancher's teenage son, said the story is darker than Fancher admits: Rooted in hoarding, driven by compulsion, the family kept Bunch where they could see her — even as she rotted away.

"Bobbie had trouble facing the fact that her mother was gone," Setlow said of his ex-mother-in-law. "They just couldn't part with her."

• • •

Bobbie Hancock was born on Christmas Day 1929, two months after the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Fancher said her mother lived a hardscrabble life in rural Alabama; as a girl, Hancock contracted rickets, a disease resulting from malnutrition.

As Hancock aged, she developed an irresistible urge to buy, find and keep things. She became a hoarder. It was her safeguard, Fancher said, against haunting memories of extreme poverty.

"She felt a compulsion to rescue and rehabilitate anything and everything that can be used," Fancher said. "She couldn't stand things being wasted."

Fancher, Hancock's only child, spent much of her life as her mother's caretaker, and together they contributed to the swelling piles swallowing their home on Alton Drive. In 1985, they rented their first of three units at the U-Stor on Lakeview Road, returning often to fill and refill.

After Bunch died in 1995, Fancher said, she never questioned why there was no funeral for her grandmother. Her mother, she said, told her "she would take care of it."

Nor, Fancher said, did she see the 6-foot-long box on her regular trips to the 10-by-10-foot unit at U-Stor. It was only last August, she said, that her mother admitted she had hired a day laborer in 1995 to, in Hancock's words, "help her move a big blue box."

• • •

Setlow, Fancher's ex-husband, remembers it differently. He remembers Bunch's body sitting at Tampa's Swilley Funeral Home for six months before Hancock loaded the blue box into her '65 Chevy pickup to take it home.

Setlow remembers his son, Morgan Barnett, living in the squalor of Hancock and Fancher's home as a boy. One room was kept constantly closed, and Barnett wonders now whether the room ever stored Bunch's body.

Now 19, Barnett struggles with rage at his mother's compulsion, Setlow said. Though he hasn't lived with Fancher for 14 years, Setlow still helps her scrap and recycle the junk in her home.

In 2010, county officials declared Hancock and Fancher's home uninhabitable. Inside they found ceiling-high trash, cockroach and spider infestations, 19 dogs and cats and a pungent stench of urine. One official told the Times it was "one of the worst houses we have ever gone into."

"Bobbie was a Class A hoarder," Setlow said, "and her daughter was brought up the same way. She didn't know any other way."

On Friday afternoon Setlow visited Fancher to tell her Bunch's body was at the Largo chapel of A Life Tribute, which handles the county's indigent cremations. As they talked, Fancher stood in her driveway near a blue Chevy Cavalier piled to the windows with old newspapers.

"I was doing what momma told me she wanted done," Fancher told him. Then she switched subjects to her storage units. "I hope they didn't break anything."

Bunch didn't want to be cremated, Fancher said, and her mother honored that wish the best she could. Letting Bunch burn now would be a terrible embarrassment, Fancher said — her mother will look down from heaven and find her a failure.

"She felt driven to do as her momma wanted. . . . We all want to do what our parents expect of us," Fancher said. Of Bunch, she added, "She wants to go home. I want to take her home."

Just how Fancher could pay for that is a mystery. She hasn't paid for the three U-Stor units, which cost about $319 a month, and her only income is from scrapping. She said she will start a new telemarketing job on Monday, her first real job since she worked as a "scareactor" at Busch Gardens' "Howl-O-Scream" in 2003.

Bunch's body, still in the handmade coffin, is awaiting its final destination. If Fancher can't pay for a burial, A Life Tribute will incinerate her remains.

Without ceremony, Bunch's ashes would be funneled into a clear bag, then placed in a white cardboard box. Then, within 120 days, a boat would sail three miles west, into the sunset, and her ashes would be scattered in the gulf.

Comments
After Michael Drejka's first court appearance, stand your ground case is expected to crawl

After Michael Drejka's first court appearance, stand your ground case is expected to crawl

LARGO — Clad in orange jail scrubs, Michael Drejka made his first court appearance Tuesday afternoon via video monitor, one day after he was arrested on a manslaughter charge in the shooting of Markeis McGlockton. The proceeding was brief and ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Seminole man faces DUI manslaughter charges in deaths of father, son

Seminole man faces DUI manslaughter charges in deaths of father, son

SEMINOLE — A 60-year-old man was arrested Tuesday evening on two counts of DUI manslaughter in the July 28 chain-reaction crash that fatally injured a father and his son, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies arrested James Wolf ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Deputies: Pinellas County jail inmate died during surgery

Deputies: Pinellas County jail inmate died during surgery

ST. PETERSBURG — A jail inmate died Monday while undergoing surgery, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.Cesar Gonzales-Espana, 43, had suffered a medical episode at the Pinellas County jail on Saturday, the agency said, and was taken t...
Published: 08/14/18
Guest charged with kicking, punching Florida hotel staff

Guest charged with kicking, punching Florida hotel staff

CAPE CORAL — A Pennsylvania woman has been arrested after she was accused of kicking, punching and ripping out the hair of staff at a Florida hotel. Cape Coral Police say 23-year-old Tara Hegarty became enraged when she couldn’t prove she was a guest...
Published: 08/14/18
Stand your ground now means we must read the mind of an accused killer

Stand your ground now means we must read the mind of an accused killer

Today, the liberals are doing a victory dance. And the conservatives are resting easier. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has done them all a huge favor by bringing a manslaughter charge against convenience store shooter Michael Drejka. ...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/14/18
Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case

Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case

Frustration and anticipation have packed the roughly three weeks since Michael Drejka shot Markeis McGlockton in a convenience store parking lot in a case that has reignited the debate over Florida’s stand your ground law.And on Monday, it took a dra...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/14/18
How prosecutors decided to charge Michael Drejka, shooter in controversial stand your ground case

How prosecutors decided to charge Michael Drejka, shooter in controversial stand your ground case

Prosecutors on Monday decided to charge 48-year-old Michael Drejka with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton, a major development in a case that has drawn national scrutiny over Florida’s stand your ground law.CHARGES FILED: Shoot...
Published: 08/13/18
What they’re saying: Reaction to the arrest of Michael Drejka in Markeis McGlockton shooting

What they’re saying: Reaction to the arrest of Michael Drejka in Markeis McGlockton shooting

The arrest of Michael Drejka in the controversial shooting of Markeis McGlockton drew loud approval Monday as a welcome development for family, advocacy groups and local elected officials in Florida.CHARGES FILED: Shooter charged with manslaughter in...
Published: 08/13/18
Prosecutors drop BUI case against Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy

Prosecutors drop BUI case against Hillsborough sheriff’s deputy

TAMPA — A Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy arrested on a boating under the influence charge last month is in the clear after prosecutors declined to move forward with the case.Still unclear, however, is whether Alexander Craver will get his job b...
Published: 08/13/18
Deputies: Polk man was viewing child porn at medical facility

Deputies: Polk man was viewing child porn at medical facility

A Frostproof man faces 68 counts of child pornography and a charge of sexual battery on a child, according to the according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.Keith Garrard Sr., 63, was arrested by Highlands County deputies after staff members at a ...
Published: 08/13/18