Family of man found dead while living with girlfriend says he ‘lived in Hell’

SALISBURY, N.C. — A Rowan County woman has been arrested for allegedly failing to report her boyfriend’s death, authorities said.

Deputies were called on Nov. 28 to a home on Scout Road in Salisbury, at the end of High Rock Lake. The call they received was from a hospice nurse who found the body of 78-year-old James Edward Kurtz.

According to Rowan County investigators, the nurse called for law enforcement and a medical examiner after noticing Kurtz had been dead long enough for his body to start decomposing. The nurse also said Kurtz’s girlfriend, Jennifer Elizabeth Ferguson, 46, claimed to have been with him since hospice last visited.

After executing a search warrant in the home, charges were filed against Ferguson for felony failure to report a death. Investigators believed Ferguson should have known Kurtz died and failed to call and report it. The search warrant says there were suspicious circumstances in Kurtz’s death, including a pill that was still in his mouth.

‘Missed out on saying goodbye to my father’

A grieving family is now demanding answers.

Tony Kurtz was James Kurtz’s son. He and James Kurtz’s estranged wife, Linda Kurtz, spoke to Channel 9′s Hannah Goetz Thursday.

They told Goetz they’ve been suspicious from the very start. They said he started dating Ferguson a few years ago and they never had a good feeling about the relationship, especially when he was sent home with her while in hospice care.

“It just irritates me that I was lied to, manipulated and missed out on saying goodbye to my father,” Tony Kurtz said.

Tony Kurtz and his mother said they are feeling so many emotions after the death of father and husband James Kurtz. Kurtz was in hospice care while finishing his battle with cancer. They said Ferguson was supposed to be his caretaker, but they were never happy with his condition when they would visit.

“He basically lived in Hell,” Tony Kurtz said. “I would go over there and my dad would be on a plastic mattress, naked.”

They said they offered to care for him but wanted to respect his wishes of staying with Ferguson. Then on Nov. 28, Kurtz’s hospice nurse called police to report he was dead -- and likely had been for a few days.

“We drove out to the lake house, the cops were there with red tape all around the house,” Tony Kurtz said

Ferguson told Channel 9 in an interview Wednesday she had no idea Kurtz was dead. Tony thinks otherwise.

“There’s no person alive on this planet that can’t tell when rigor mortis sets in,” he said. “The body is decaying for three days.”

Tony said he called Ferguson in the days before finding out his dad was dead. He was under the impression he was still alive, but the police say that’s likely not the case.

“I will pick up the phone and say, ‘how’s my dad doing’ she would say, ‘he’s doing fine, I gave him something to eat this morning,’” he said.

Ferguson has a long criminal history, including a 2008 conviction of accessory after the fact to murder.

“I feel like she’s going to get away with this too,” Tony Kurtz said. “This is my father. It’s ripping my heart out.”

They want Ferguson to be held accountable for her actions and for this situation to go away.

“I just want all of this to be over with,” Linda Kurtz said. “We need to get on with our lives.”

Investigators are still waiting for the autopsy report to come back.

(PREVIOUS: Rowan County woman accused of failing to report boyfriend’s death speaks to Channel 9)

Ferguson: ‘I loved Jim’

Ferguson spoke exclusively with Channel 9′s Dave Faherty on Wednesday. She showed us the small cross she keeps with her at all times; she said Kurtz gave it to her. The couple had been together for 10 years, Ferguson said.

“I loved Jim,” Ferguson told Channel 9. “The whole thing is he come home, and he was with me.”

She said Kurtz had been battling stage-four bone cancer, but she didn’t realize he had died when a hospice nurse visited.

“I didn’t know he was gone,” Ferguson said. “I told that to them from the beginning. I did not know he was dead. I would not have slept in a house where someone was gone.”

She said that Kurtz knew about her past -- Ferguson was convicted in 2008 of accessory after the fact to murder. She said that she would never hurt the 78-year-old, and it’s something she wants his family and police to know.

“Told me that I murdered the dad, and since they couldn’t get that on the autopsy, now they’re saying I concealed the death,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson was arrested on Dec. 12 and was released on a $3,000 bond. She told Channel 9 she plans on fighting the charge in court.

According to Ferguson, Kurtz left her about $20,000 and gave her permission to stay in the home for 90 days.

The investigation is still open.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(WATCH BELOW: Parents charged after 4-year-old boy fatally shot in Gaston County, police say)