SOMERSET — A Pulaski County man kept his dead mother in a freezer for three years while spending her Social Security checks, then he killed himself as police tried to unravel the mystery of what happened to the woman, according to the sheriff's office.
Police suspect that Jon Whiteford dumped the body of his mother, Faye B. Whiteford, who would have been 96 this year, at an empty house after he was forced to move out of the home they had shared.
A detective found the body on April 23, wrapped in a tarpaulin and lying in the yard, according to a news release issued Tuesday.
The grim case began to unfold in February, when federal investigators contacted Pulaski County Sheriff Todd Wood's office for help in locating Faye Whiteford, a retired school teacher, and her son.
The Social Security Administration was paying monthly benefits to Faye Whiteford, but she had not logged a medical claim in her name for about three years — an obvious red flag, given her age.
The agency asked authorities to check on her.
Federal agents told sheriff's detectives that Whiteford's son had access to her finances, according to the news release.
Detectives went to Whiteford's home in Science Hill, but it was abandoned.
In early March, however, police located Jon Whiteford, 59, when he went to the Social Security office in Somerset to apply for benefits in his name.
Whiteford told police that his home had been repossessed and he'd been living in his car.
He also confirmed that his mother was dead, but he refused to say how or when she died or tell them where her body was, according to the news release.
As police investigated, they learned that Jon Whiteford was staying at a house next door to where he had lived with his mother on Maggie Lane in Science Hill.
A deputy went to the house on March 29 to talk to Whiteford again. As the deputy stood at the door, Whiteford pulled a pistol and killed himself, said Lt. Detective Brett Whitaker, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.
Police kept trying to find out what had happened to Faye Whiteford, however, and they eventually received information suggesting that her son had been trying to rent a house in neighboring Wayne County.
On April 23, Whitaker went to that house, an older structure in need of repair. It appeared that someone had been working on the house, which is on Brammer Hill Ridge Road in a rural area, with no other houses nearby.
Whitaker found a tied-up tarpaulin lying in the yard beside the driveway at the house, with Faye Whiteford's body inside.
The body's identity was confirmed this week, according to a news release from state police.
The investigation indicated that Faye Whiteford had been bedfast for several years, and that her son was her primary caregiver and had control of her finances. She didn't have other close relatives nearby, Whitaker said.
People who knew the family said Whiteford died of natural causes sometime in 2011.
Jon Whiteford decided to continue drawing his mother's Social Security and retirement benefits, making the "fateful decision" to buy a freezer and keep his mother's body in it until he was forced to move out of their home about last Christmas, according to Wood's office.
Investigators suspect that Whiteford took his mother's body to the house in Wayne County that he was getting ready to rent.
The body probably remained frozen until spring because of the very cold winter, according to the news release.
There is no one to charge in the case.
Investigators would like to clear up some questions, however; they've asked that anyone who might have spoken with Jon Whiteford in the last few months, or helped him clean out his home or move belongings, call the sheriff's office at (606) 678-5145.
Wood offered condolences to the family and friends of Faye Whiteford.
"Our thoughts and prayers are extended to them as they deal with the death of their loved one and the horrendous manner in which she was treated," he said.
Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.