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The bizarre story of the Indianapolis mummies

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

In last week’s entry, I talked about the Brabant Killers, which was not only a huge case but one that took place in a country where English is not the primary language. As much as I enjoyed doing that video, researching as well as getting over the language barrier took a lot out of me. So today I thought I’d talk about a bit of a smaller case with less details, but one I’ve wanted to cover for awhile. Let’s talk about the Indianapolis Mummies.

So first, let’s talk about Carl Forchee. Carl was born in 1909 and was a World War II veteran. By the 1980’s, he’d settled in the suburbs of Indianapolis, and seemed to be pretty well loved in his community. Neighbors called him “The Bubblegum Man” because he passed out bubble gum to the neighborhood kids every Sunday. He also attended church and even taught Sunday School, at least until the late 1970’s. At the time, Carl was looking after his sister, Agnes Forchee, and his aunt, Charlotte Arlington. Both women were elderly and in poor heath, and both had falls and broke their hips around this time, only contributing to their failing health. Carl began pouring all his time into caring for them, and his neighbors saw him less and less. All that changed on November 20, 1987.

In late November, Carl’s neighbors called the police because they hadn’t seen him in a few days and were concerned. On Friday, November 20, police went to the house to investigate.

The outside of his home was neat and well kept, but the inside was a disaster. It was covered in trash and rotting food, and rife with dust and cobwebs. Police also found Carl Forchee’s body inside the house, believing he’d been dead for a couple of days and had probably died from a heart attack or stroke. But that’s not all they found.

In two separate back bedrooms of the house, police found the bodies of two badly decomposed women, thought to have been dead for at least a year. One body had nearly fully decomposed to the point of almost being skeletonized. The other was at least partially mummified — which I guess makes the phrase “Indianapolis Mummies” inaccurate, but that’s what they’ve been called.

Right away, investigators suspected these were the bodies of Carl’s sister, Agnes, and his aunt Charlotte. From here, I found some contradictory details. One source said the sister was the one almost fully skeletonized, but another said the sister was preserved better than the aunt. One source said they were all thought to have died of natural causes, another said it was initially assumed to be murder. But regardless, investigators had to piece together what happened.

They used a couple of different techniques to figure out the details. One was the over 100 bugs in the room, the other was the aunt Charlotte’s diary. Forensic entomology (aka the study of bugs) determined the women had been dead between one and ten years. The aunt’s last diary entry was written in 1977, where she said both she and her niece — Carl’s sister — were in failing health and didn’t have long to live. Based on all this, Carl’s aunt Charlotte was thought to have died around October 1977, and his sister, Agnes, in late 1977 or early 1978. A forged death certificate was also found in the house, though I’m not sure who it was for.

But what happened to these women? How did they die, and why were their bodies kept hidden in the house for so long? Some things still aren’t 100 % clear but, based on the evidence as well as neighbor interviews, investigators were able to piece together the big picture of what happened.

Carl’s aunt and sister died in his care, probably within less than a year of each other. After that, he never let anyone in the house, recruiting neighbors to do errands for him, including ordering his groceries. When the groceries were delivered, he requested they be slipped under the garage door. He also ordered enough groceries for three people — which probably explains the mounds of uneaten, rotting food inside. Any time someone would ask about the women, he would simply say they were still in bad health. He kept up this charade for a decade, never letting anyone inside his house or telling anyone that the women had died.

But why did he do this? He kept cashing their Social Security and pension checks after they died, so there have been some implications that he did it for fraudulent purposes. But most people don’t seem to agree. It seems more like Carl just couldn’t bear to part with the women he was tasked with caring for, even after their deaths. His pastor has even suggested Carl believed the women were still alive, that his mind was too feeble to comprehend the truth. He talked about them as if they were alive, and people just believed it because they had no reason not to.

The day after the bodies were found, an autopsy concluded that Carl had indeed died of a stroke less than 24 hours before his body was found. I couldn’t find information about autopsies for the women, but if there was evidence of foul play, I’m sure it would have been easy to uncover. No charges were ever filed, and all the deaths were ruled as natural causes. Carl’s church was listed as the beneficiary of his estate.

So that’s all I have for you today on the Indianapolis Mummies. I heard about this case when I was a kid on an episode of The New Detectives, which I’ll link below if you want to watch for yourself. There are plenty of other stories out there like this, where people die and their bodies are in their house for weeks, months or years before they’re found. This one has always stuck out to me, probably because I was so young when I heard it. Seven-year-old me found it terrifying; now looking back on it as an adult, it’s really kind of sad.

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