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Bitter End

Marcia Rowlette's life was full of pain and suffering. At age 2, a case of spinal meningitis left her mostly crippled. She lived her adult life in assisted-care facilities in her hometown of Prescott, where years of physical therapy were hindered by Marcia's other medical conditions, which included psoriasis, arthritis...

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Marcia Rowlette's life was full of pain and suffering. At age 2, a case of spinal meningitis left her mostly crippled. She lived her adult life in assisted-care facilities in her hometown of Prescott, where years of physical therapy were hindered by Marcia's other medical conditions, which included psoriasis, arthritis and brain seizures. When she died in 1997 at the age of 38, Marcia's mother, Louise Omar, was relieved that Marcia's suffering had finally ended. But when Louise learned last month that Marcia's body had been found in a freezer -- alongside the corpses of 10 cats -- at the home of her widower, Edwin Rowlette, Louise was reminded of every minute of Marcia's pain.

Louise and her son, Alan Willey, want to see Rowlette -- nearly twice Marcia's age -- brought to justice. They want Marcia's remains finally to be laid to rest. But most of all, they want to know how Marcia ended up a human Popsicle.

New Times: So your daughter was living in a nursing home in Prescott, and she married this guy and moved in with him.

Louise Omar: Yes. All of a sudden we got a call from the nursing home saying Marcia has decided to marry this man. They said, "Talk her out of it. This isn't a good idea." We couldn't dissuade her.

NT: Was there a funeral?

Louise: We had a service. We didn't know who [her husband] was; we still hadn't met him. But we were told that he was going to put Marcia's body into a cryogenic facility.

NT: So you knew back then that her body was going to be frozen.

Alan Willey: Well, we knew from the beginning that he had supposedly placed her in a cryogenics facility. I made some calls to this place called McCandless Research and Development Foundation, not having any idea that it in fact was Mr. Rowlette's company. The document he used to transfer her body was a legitimate document. She was taken to his home, and she was in a freezer in his backyard from then on.

NT: So there was a memorial service held without Marcia's body.

Louise: In this country, the husband has sole access to the body. But not to take home!

NT: How'd you find out that Marcia's body was in a freezer in Prescott?

Alan: From the evening news.

Louise: My other daughter got a call saying, "Are you watching the news? They found Marcia's body in her husband's freezer."

Alan: Mr. Rowlette's daughter was apparently visiting him from out of town, and she saw a dry ice truck coming with a delivery one day. She got suspicious, and when he was out, she got a neighbor and they went and opened the freezer and discovered my sister's body.

NT: He apparently believed he could bring his late wife back to life?

Alan: According to all information that we have, he still believes this. We were told by a television newsperson that Mr. Rowlette's primary wish is to help Marcia walk again so that they can walk through the neighborhood and share the blessings of the Lord with their neighbors.

NT: When did he plan to get around to restoring her to life?

Louise: Well, how would you restore an autopsied body to life?

NT: Marcia's body had been autopsied?

Louise: Yes. And I'd like to know how the health department could release a body to a cryogenics lab knowing it had been autopsied. I don't know much about cryogenics, but does Alcor [Life Extension Foundation] accept bodies that have been autopsied? They take everything out; they slice you open, remove all your major organs. You can never be made whole again.

NT: Was McCandless Research a sort of do-it-yourself cryogenics lab?

Louise: Do it yourself on an autopsied body? It's foolish. [Rowlette] was picked up by the police [after Marcia's body was found in the freezer] for [alleged] "crimes against the dead." [Actual charges never resulted.]

NT: I understand the inside of his house was kind of a mess.

Louise: Kind of a mess? One TV reporter told us the stench was so extreme that he couldn't get past the front door. It was physically uninhabitable, and we've been told that the house was about to be condemned. The freezer was in a tin shed in the backyard.

NT: Was there any attempt to disguise her body as, say, a box of frozen dinners?

Alan: I don't know about that. But they did have to thaw her body out to make sure it was her.

NT: Where is Marcia's body now?

Louise: It's still in the morgue! It's in a cold storage locker.

Alan: And it's deteriorating as we speak.

NT: What do you want to see happen?

Louise: You know, this has been such a torturous procedure. I would have been more than happy to provide a cremation and just have a quiet service and be done with it. I don't know this old guy. I don't give a crap what they do to him. Because I've been put through so much hell. I've been put off and ignored. A man in the County Attorney's Office said to me, "Well, just exactly what is it you want?"

NT: And what do you want?

Louise: I've become so hardened through this whole process. We got a call from a funeral home that Mr. Rowlette had chosen. They were calling because they couldn't get in touch with him. So after all they've put us through, they're going to release the body to us so that we can pay for the service? No! I will not do it. Marcia has not been in that body since hopefully the time she first began to suffer under his roof. At this point, the body is almost inconsequential. And now they're saying we can have the body because Mr. Rowlette doesn't have any money to pay for the funeral service? Screw it!

NT: So it sounds like what happens to Marcia's body isn't all that important to you.

Alan: Her spirit and her soul have not been in that body for a long time.

Louise: I've had to detach from her body. What this has done for me has brought back memories of Marcia's illnesses and her pain and suffering. Of seeing her in that nursing home when she came down here. All we wanted was for this to be quietly, immediately taken care of. Lock up the old guy, do whatever you want to with him, but for God's sake, in the name of decency, bury her. Cremate her. Do something. Go and hold a gun to his head and say, "Do something! You're her husband!" I'd like to say I'm numb, but I'm not.

NT: What will happen to Mr. Rowlette?

Alan: The general consensus seems to be that he can't be successfully charged and prosecuted with anything. These different agencies all appear to be running for cover right now.

Louise: Not only did he keep my daughter's body in a freezer for six years, but now that it's been discovered, it's only caused us more pain.

NT: Your daughter would have been treated better if she'd been a Popsicle.

Louise: Yes, she would have. No one involved cares about Marcia. She was indigent, and her husband was a kook. "He froze her body, what the hell." That must have been their thinking. No one can take care of it, or put an end to it. And no one has considered my feelings for one single second.

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