'He was not evil': Family sheds light on why man left bodies of mom, aunt in home for years

CLOVER, S.C. — Deputies said two of the three people found dead inside a York County home in July had been there since as long ago as 2015.

Authorities said they conducted a welfare check at the home on Griggs Road near Clover on July 31 when they made the discovery of the three family members.

Deputies said they found 45-year-old Thomas Gardner dead inside the home by the front door. They said the bodies of two women were also discovered inside the house.

The women were later identified as Thomas Gardner's mother, 69-year-old Susan Gardner, and her sister, 77-year-old Ruth Allred.

Officials said Thomas Gardner died by suicide days before the bodies were found and left a note with details about the women.

According to the note left by Thomas Gardner, his mother died in November 2015 and his aunt, Allred, died approximately six months later. Deputies believe he wrapped the bodies and left them in a room for years.

He also said in the letter that he was afraid that he would be blamed for the two women's deaths, and that was the reason he never contacted authorities.

Investigators confirmed the condition of the remains matched up with the time frame given by Thomas Gardner.

A family member told Channel 9 Susan Gardner, who had an alcohol dependency, lived with her sister, Allred, until she died in 2015.

That’s when Allred called Thomas Gardner, who did not live in the home, but with a girlfriend, an hour away.

Allred reportedly told him: “Don’t tell anybody. They might put me in a nursing home, and I won’t have my choices anymore.”

Thomas Gardner’s cousin, April Kay, said he depended heavily on the two women and kept his mother’s body in the house. Allred lived for six months in the home with the body, then she too died.

“He lost somebody he loved so much that was close to him. I think he just broke emotionally. I think it shattered him so much emotionally,” Kay said.

He continued to keep her secret and kept both women’s bodies in the house.

A relative said she was concerned about the family and had asked deputies to check on the house before. They did, but no one ever came to the door.

Deputies told Channel 9 they went to the house to assist Adult Protective Services four times before finding their bodies -- June 28, July 5, July 16, and July 31.

A neighbor who has lived next door for 10 years told Channel 9 she had only seen Thomas Gardner outside cutting grass. She said she hadn’t seen the two women in years.

Detectives said they believe Thomas Gardner didn’t report the deaths to continue to collect their government benefits.

Kay said he visited the home regularly for three years, using their Social Security checks to pay bills and keep up appearances.

“Maybe somewhere in that emotional break he thought, ‘They might come back if I do what I’m supposed to do.’ But I think he realized at some point they weren’t going to,” Kay said.

The family doesn’t blame him.

“He was not a bad person. He was not a monster. He was not evil. He was just trying to figure out how to take care of his family,” Kay said.

After the autopsies, Allred's cause of death was confirmed as probable atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and Susan Gardner's cause of death was undetermined.

Investigators said there is no indication of foul play in the deaths of Allred or Susan Gardner.

They said this case is closed and no charges will be filed.