A wife who secretly buried her dead husband in the garden of their Mid Wales home and then claimed almost £60,000 of his benefits has been jailed today.
Most of the money appeared to have been converted into gold sovereigns and police were trying to recover them, a judge heard.
Rebekah Laden Sturdey, 56, admitted preventing the decent and lawful burial of her husband Geoffrey.
She went on to pretend he was still alive and touring Europe and claimed £57,759 in disability living allowance and pension credits before the Department for Work and Pensions discovered she had savings above the permitted limit.
Boger-ore Adie, 43, who told police she treated Mr Sturdey as a brother, also admitted the burial charge and receiving a total of £77,318 in benefits in his name by also claiming a carer’s allowance and income support.
Karmel Adie, 25, admitted the burial charge.
Sturdey and Bogera-ore Adie were jailed for 20 months. Karmel Adie—no relation—was jailed for nine months, suspended for 12 months, and told to carry out 120 hours of unpaid work or the community.
Huw Rees, prosecuting, told Swansea crown court that all four lived as an obscure religious sect at Beth Berith, a small holding made up of land and static caravans in the countryside near Llwynygroes, Tregaron.
They studied the Old Testament and Beth Berith could mean God of the Covenant in Hebrew.
Mr Sturdey had adopted the name Shamar, which meant The Keeper in Hebrew.
Mr Rees said police and DWP investigators questioned Mrs Sturdey in January, 2013, and she maintained he was touring Europe with an unknown male companion.
But according to notes written by Boger-ore Adie it appeared he had died aged 60 from natural causes at 1.15am on October 5, 2008, which she described as the being during the seventh Hebrew lunar month.
Police discovered he did not have a passport and began a search that would cost £20,000. On June 18, 2013, using specialised equipment, they found his body under a concrete floor inside a plastic tunnel.
A pathologist found the body, wrapped in cloth, to have been ”remarkably” well preserved and he was able to determine that Mr Sturdey had died from natural causes. A local doctor who had examined Mr Sturdey a few days before his death said he seemed to be in poor health “and resigned to his fate.”
Mr Rees said it appeared that Mr Sturdey had been buried at a location and in a manner of his choosing and that all concerned had expected Jesus to return to earth seven days later to collect his spirit.
However, there were rules about what had to happen in the event of death, not least to ensure that no foul play had taken place.
Mr Rees said police searched the smallholding and found £6,115 in cash in four locations.
On November 11, 2010, a woman calling herself Mrs Adie had telephoned a gold dealer in Ludlow requesting to buy £50,000 worth of gold in cash.
“She was particularly interested in gold sovereigns,” added Mr Rees.
The following day £20,000 was transferred to the dealer and a further £15,000 a day later.
Mr Rees said later two women, one identifying herself as Karmel Adie, met the dealer at the end of a lane near Beth Berith and handed over a further £16,000 in £20 notes.
“Karmel Adie is still in possession of a significant amount of gold,” added Mr Rees.
A Proceeds of Crime investigation is underway to recover the gold.
After being arrested, shortly before Mr Sturdey’s body was discovered, all three women maintained he was in Europe and did not want to be traced. Later, after the burial had been found, they refused to answer any further questions.
Chris James, the barrister representing Mrs Sturdey, said effectively the three women were Mr Sturdey’s next of kin and had treated his body “with respect and according to his wishes.”
“He had been ill following a stroke and they had looked after him well. They felt under a duty to carry out his wishes,” he added.
Ironically, they had not wanted Mr Sturdey’s body to be interfered with by doctors and pathologists, but that was exactly what had happened. But if they had gone through the proper channels he may have been left untouched.
And, in another twist, Mr Sturdey’s body had been returned to where it had been found.
Judge Paul Thomas said the women did not appear to understand the extent of their criminality and sentences to deter others were called for.
He said he accepted that their religious beliefs were genuine but there were obvious reasons why the authorities had to be informed about anyone’s death.
Mrs Sturdey, he said, had then told lies to confuse the authorities and to cover up an elaborate fraud.
“These are highly unusual circumstances,” he added.
After the hearing, Delmie Jones, a fraud manager with the DWP, said, "This prosecution is the result of the diligence of our investigators, who discovered the initial fraud that led to the arrest of these women.
"Working in partnership with the police, the full extent of their crimes has now been uncovered.
"It just goes to show the level of commitment our teams have in investigating all allegations of benefit fraud, and in making sure criminals like these are brought to justice."