A Nebraska man accused of helping his Florida girlfriend kill herself after she told him she had cancer appears to have taken her story at face value and didn't push her to seek medical treatment or mental health counseling, authorities said Tuesday.
Lt. Larry Burke of the Cass County Sheriff's Office said Matthew J. Stubbendieck was "pretty convincing in his interviews" that he believed his girlfriend, 38-year-old Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan, of Orange City, Florida, had stage-4 cancer in her lymph nodes.
Nebraska authorities now suspect Wilemon-Sullivan didn't have cancer, based on an autopsy of her decomposed body that found no tumors. Wilemon-Sullivan killed herself in a wooded area near Weeping Water on Aug. 1, with help from the 41-year-old Stubbendieck, who faces a felony assisted suicide charge.
On Tuesday, Judge John F. Steinheider set Stubbendieck's bond at $50,000. He remains in jail.
Burke said authorities can't prove whether or not Wilemon-Sullivan actually had cancer, but noted that Stubbendieck never accompanied her to medical appointments and didn't contact authorities while they were planning or carrying out her death.
"He didn't bother to say, 'If she does have cancer, why don't we do something about it,'" Burke said. "If he's truly in love with her, as he says, there are times he could have sought help. He could have gotten her to a mental health professional."
Burke said Wilemon-Sullivan claimed to have cancer back when she and Stubbendieck were living in Florida. Stubbendieck moved to Florida about three years ago but returned to his native Nebraska after losing his job, he said.
Authorities said Stubbendieck reported that Wilemon-Sullivan had killed herself and led them to her body on Aug. 5 in a wooded area near his hometown of Weeping Water. The couple arranged for Wilemon-Sullivan to fly to Nebraska from her home near Orlando to kill herself.
Stubbendieck believed his girlfriend had cancer in the lymph nodes of her neck, armpit and stomach, according to court records. Authorities say the cause of death was inconclusive, but the autopsy found no sign of blunt force trauma and concluded that cuts on her forearms and wrists appeared to be self-inflicted. Wilemon-Sullivan also had alcohol, painkillers and cold medicine in her system, it found.
The investigation "revealed Stubbendieck and Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan had been arranging for Alicia to come to Nebraska to die" and they were "talking about her death over text messages" for several weeks, authorities said in court records.
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Wilemon-Sullivan left her children with a friend and said she was going on vacation to Key West, the records said. Authorities say she bought a one-way American Airlines ticket to Nebraska.
Kenny Johnson, the friend who watched over her children, said Wilemon-Sullivan texted him on July 31 that she would be away until Aug. 3. Johnson said he met her at the airport, and she gave him $200 and her truck keys.
Johnson said Wilemon-Sullivan never mentioned to him that she had been diagnosed with cancer, and only complained occasionally that her feet hurt. He said he met her through her son in March and was staying with the family after his recent move to Florida. Wilemon-Sullivan had four children.
"She was a hard-working single mom," Johnson said.
Authorities began investigating after one of Wilemon-Sullivan's children contacted Florida authorities Aug. 5, according to a missing-person's report filed with the Volusia County, Florida, sheriff's office. The 15-year-old said his older brother in Mississippi had received a call from Stubbendieck notifying him that their mother had died after cutting her wrists.
Investigators said Stubbendieck and Wilemon-Sullivan walked into the woods to an area called Acapulco Lake around 2 p.m. on Aug. 1, and he remained with her for several hours as she tried to end her life, according to the records.
Authorities said Stubbendieck tried to suffocate her twice while she was sleeping, but stopped because she appeared to be suffering. She was still able to whisper when he left her around 9:30 p.m.
Stubbendieck returned the next afternoon and found Wilemon-Sullivan dead, but he didn't call the sheriff's office until three days later, according to court records. Stubbendieck told authorities he initially promised not to tell anyone about her death until five or six months later but changed his mind because the secret was "destroying his family," court records show.
Stubbendieck has a history of minor drug and alcohol-related offenses in Nebraska but no violent crimes, according to online court records.
Assisting suicide is a felony in Nebraska punishable by as much as two years in prison, a year of post-release supervision and a $10,000 fine, although a judge could impose a lesser sentence.