Widow, 68, who kept her dead husband’s body in freezer for a year loses suit to have corpse returned
Barbara Watters, 68, was arrested in November 2019 and charged with abandonment of a corpse when police discovered that the remains of her dead husband, Paul Barton, were being stored in a freezer in a bedroom of her home on Vermont Avenue, in Joplin
A Missouri woman who kept her deceased husband’s body inside a home freezer for almost a year after he died of ALS has lost a lawsuit to have his corpse returned to her.
Barbara Watters, 68, was arrested in November 2019 and charged with abandonment of a corpse when police discovered that the remains of her dead husband, Paul Barton, were being stored in a freezer in a bedroom of her home on Vermont Avenue, in Joplin.
Investigators said they believed Barton’s corpse had been in the freezer for the better part of a year, with an autopsy determining he had died of natural causes in December 2018.
The charges against Watters were eventually dismissed in January after a judge reasoned she had not actually ‘abandoned’ her husband’s corpse as prohibited by law but merely sought to ‘preserve’ it.
Three months later, Watters filed a lawsuit against the city of Joplin, its police department, and its coroner, seeking the return of her husband’s body, the freezer, and various documents she said police took when they served a search warrant on her home in November last year.
The suit was removed to federal court, before a judge ordered for the case to be dismissed on November 2 after Watters allegedly failed to respond to court orders issued September 1 and October 6 regarding pre-trial efforts to reach a resolution.
Watters claimed to the Joplin Globe that she never received those orders. She told the outlet that despite the dismissal of her case, she plans to continue her fight.
‘They think they got away with something. But I’m not done,’ she said.
Investigators said they believed Barton’s corpse had been in the freezer in their home (above) for the better part of a year, with an autopsy determining he had died of natural causes in December 2018
A judge ordered for the case to be dismissed on November 2 (shown above)
Shortly after her arrest, Watters said her husband, who suffered from a rare form of Lou Gehrig’s disease, died in their home age 71 ‘terrified’ that doctors would harvest his brain and other organs after his death for ALS research.
‘We both believed that carving people up and using their organs is ghoulish and goes against God’s word,’ Watters told the Globe.
Despite authorities calling her claims baseless, Watters insisted that one doctor in particular was intent on getting her husband to donate his brain and spinal cord for research, withholding his prescriptions until he agreed to do so. Barton said she signed an affidavit to prevent such a motion.
When her husband died at home, Watters – using a ramp and his wheelchair – then manoeuvred his body into the freezer in their bedroom to prevent anyone from harvesting his organs.
A police investigation later found that the last time any neighbors recalled seeing Barton alive was in December 2018.
Months earlier, in June, two Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services employees went to the couple’s home after receiving a report that Watters was prohibiting Barton from receiving care.
Although she didn’t allow the state workers or police to enter the home, Watters wheeled Barton to the door so they could see him. The officer said that Barton looked ‘frail and sickly’ but appeared to be breathing on his own and had no major bruising to suggest an assault.
‘Watters stated Barton was barely able to walk, could not speak, and could only answer yes and no questions with head nods,’ the police report said.
State workers expressed concern that Watters wouldn’t let them talk to Barton about his care outside her presence. The officer asked her to allow Barton to come outside to the front porch, but she declined, ‘stating that she did not want to get beat up,’ and asked them to leave.
The officer said there weren’t grounds to enter the home at the time because Barton didn’t appear to be in danger.
Watters (pictured in a November 2019 mugshot) said that despite the dismissal of her case, she plans to continue her fight
The case was thrown out by a judge on November 2 after Watters allegedly failed to respond to court orders issued September 1 and October 6 regarding pre-trial efforts to reach a resolution
Several well-being checks followed at the couple’s home, including one in which police left after no one answered the door and were unable to see inside because there was aluminum foil placed over most of the windows.
But when police returned in July, they were able to speak alone with Barton, who said he wasn’t interested in seeking treatment at a Kansas hospital but wanted to see a doctor. Police described him as appearing clean and well cared for. Watters confirmed that she would like to get Barton to see a doctor but was concerned.
‘She kept making mention of Paul’s body being used for research,’ a police report said. ‘She said they did not want his body to be taken apart. Barbara said due to them refusing to consent to research, they were having a hard time finding a doctor to help them.’
Then, in October 2018, Watters called police to report that a homeless woman had assaulted her. Arriving officers spoke to the woman, who said that no assault had occurred, but that Watters had forced her to leave the home, where she was being paid to care for Barton.
Barton passed away just months later.
His body was eventually found by officers of the Joplin Police Department in November 2019, during a search of the property amid a neighborhood canvas following an unrelated arson investigation.
A witness told officers that they believed a deceased person was inside Ms Watters’ residence, according to police. That witness said Ms Watters threatened to kill him if he reported her to authorities.
Ever since, Barton’s corpse has been in refrigeration at the Jasper County Coroner’s office.
Coroner Rob Chappel said, following the dismissal of Watters’ suit, he’s hoping to resolve what happens to Barton’s remains quickly.
‘We want to honor [Paul Barton],’ he told the Globe. ‘We would like to honor [Barbara Watters] as well — but within the parameters of the law.’
According to Chappel, state law requires one of three options for final disposition. Those options consist of burial, cremation, or anatomical detonation for medical science.
Chappel said that keeping a loved one’s remains in a freezer inside your home is ‘not considered final disposition as I interpret the law.’
In her suit, Watters claimed she would ‘suffer irreparable harm if Mr. Barton’s body is not returned to her in the condition in which it was seized.’
Speaking to the Globe this week, she declined to specify what her exact intentions are if Barton’s body is returned to her.
The closest she’s came to such a declaration came when she said, ‘They cannot require my husband be buried. They cannot require that he be cremated and they cannot require that his body be made an anatomical gift.’
She also expressed doubts that the coroner’s office is still in possession of her husband’s body. She said she fears he may have already been ‘sliced up into tissue samples.’
Chappel, meanwhile, called the claims unfounded and said her theory would quickly be disproven if she agreed to a legally acceptable form of final disposition.