The autistic Louisiana woman who died fused to a sofa in her own excrement, was last seen alive in public about 15 years ago exercising outside her house, DailyMail.com can exclusively reveal.
Close neighbor Robert Blades, 59, said he spotted Lacey Ellen Fletcher for the final time carrying small weights around the neighborhood when she would have been around 21 years old.
The father of two told DailyMail.com he knew Lacey as ‘just a fun, normal kid’ before becoming more isolated from her neighborhood friends from the age of about 14.
‘When I saw her that last time, she appeared fairly physically normal,’ Blades said.
‘She was always pretty thin and she was exercising in the road with those small weights you carry.
‘I’d see her a few times, gently getting some exercise in the roadway. I didn’t say anything to her that final time, there was no reason to.’
Lacey Fletcher, 36, had not been seen in public for at least 15 years before her gruesome death, neighbors told DailyMail.com. Her parents Sheila and Clay Fletcher (pictured after posting bond Wednesday) are charged with second degree murder
Lacey attended the former Brownsville Baptist Academy in Louisiana where she was featured on the school volleyball team – as revealed in new exclusive DailyMail.com pictures
Former classmates said Lacey began to retreat into isolation in her teens as her autism accelerated and was home schooled after 9th grade
Lacey then vanished from view in the small town of Slaughter, Louisiana – and died in January aged 36, after secret horrific ordeal in which her emaciated and feces-smeared body wore a hole in a sofa on which she had stayed for 12 agonizing years.
Parents Clay and Sheila Fletcher, both 64, both face life in jail without parole after being charged with second degree murder following a grand jury review on Monday at the courthouse in nearby Clinton.
The church-going pillars of their community were arrested hours after the decision, but have been released from East Feliciana Parish Jail after a judge ordered a $300,000 bond on each of them.
Blades, a retired welder, said he challenged Clay Fletcher over his daughter’s whereabouts around five years ago because she hadn’t been seen for years.
‘I asked Clay because I hadn’t seen her for so long. I actually thought maybe she got married and moved on,’ he said.
Neighbor Robert Blades, 59, told DailyMail.com he last saw Lacey exercising outside her Slaughter, Louisiana house when she would have been 21
‘I said, how is Lacey? How’s she doing? Has she moved off? Went to college or what?
‘He replied, oh no, she’s still here. She’s fine. And then changed the subject. And that’s it. He didn’t explain why we hadn’t seen her at all.
‘I just took him at his word. I had absolutely no suspicions about what actually happened at that house over the road from us. No alerts, nothing.’
Blades and his 37-year-old son, also called Robert, both painted a picture of Lacey as a girl who began to retreat into isolation as she grew into her teens.
It is believed her autism accelerated when she was around 14 – and she was home schooled after 9th grade.
She had been a student at the former Brownsville Baptist Academy where she featured on the school volleyball team – as revealed in new exclusive DailyMail.com pictures.
Lacey is seen beaming with friends in the back row of the 1997-98 team photo. And in a school year book photo for the 9th grade, also obtained by DailyMail.com, she smiles endearingly while wearing an Alice band in her long blond hair.
The Fletchers moved into their neat two-story home on a gravel cul-de-sac around 27 years ago, where a then nine-year-old Lacey started to make friends with children who lived on the same road.
The couple regularly attend a Baptist church in nearby Zachary.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE
A photo of the two-story home located on Tom Drive in Slaughter where Lacey lived with her parents
Sheila Fletcher and Clay Fletcher were arrested Monday and indicted on second-degree murder charges for the death of their daughter, Lacey, 36
Blades, who moved there four years beforehand with his wife Auralia and sons around Lacey’s age, said: ‘She appeared to be a happy girl, she liked fun things. I never knew there was anything wrong until she became a teenager.
‘There then seemed to be a change in her. From hanging out with a lot of kids, she hardly ever had any friends that went over to see her.’
Blades’s son Robert told DailyMail.com: ‘She became different. She just didn’t see things the way a lot of other kids did.
A photo showing a close-up of the leather couch Lacey was fused to. The coroner estimates that Lacey was sitting in that hole in the couch for the last 12 years
‘I last saw her around 15 years ago like my dad. I wouldn’t say I was a particular friend. She’d hang out with my younger brother sometimes.
‘But she was definitely different from other kids her age. I knew she was not your typical teenager.
‘She was smart, she was as smart as hell. But I guess the best way to put it is that she wasn’t as mature as us. She still liked children things, not teenage things.’
Robert added: ‘When she was 17 or 18 she was more into Disney movies and country music.
‘She did invite us over to watch Disney movies, despite being more withdrawn. But that wasn’t my forte, I was 18. I used to ride motorcycles.’
Lacey’s body was discovered after her mother rang 911 around 2am on January 3, when it is believed she said her daughter had stopped breathing. Coroner Dr Ewell Bickham was immediately called to the scene after a horrified sheriff’s deputy reported back.
However, Blades revealed to DailyMail.com that Sheila Fletcher might have been forced to make that call.
‘There was one neighbor here, we don’t know who it was, had supposedly seen Lacey on the couch like that and told the parents they had to call the police,’ he said. ‘And that’s what we were told. I don’t know how much truth there is in that.’
Blades reflected on the horror that was happening day and night over the road from his equally neat two-story house.
Sheila walked out of jail late Tuesday night after posting $300,000 bond – a little over 24 hours after her arrest
The mother, who is facing murder charges over the death of her autistic daughter Lacey, was snapped leaving East Feliciana Parish Jail
‘I’m shocked about what happened to that baby. I don’t believe anybody around here had idea,’ he said. ‘She was a sweet girl. I wouldn’t treat my dogs like that. I would have cried like a baby if I’d have seen her like that. That’s just unspeakable.
‘My heart goes out to Lacey. I’m saddened to the bone.
‘If I had known, I would have called authorities. I wouldn’t have had a choice. We have an obligation to each other as humans.’
But he added: ‘I pray for Clay and Sheila. I don’t hate them. I know that God is going to hold us all fully accountable for what we do. You don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.
‘I don’t think they are cold blooded murderers. I think they made some bad decisions.
‘Sheila and Clay were well liked people round here. Church every Sunday. As far as I knew they were fine and upstanding. I never in my wildest dreams thought there was anything wrong over there.’
Blades spoke out as the Fletchers both made bail within 36 hours of being charged with second-degree murder.
Sheila walked resolutely out of jail at 10.30pm local time on Tuesday hours after a judge had set the bond.
Pictured leaving East Feliciana Parish Jail in exclusive DailyMail.com photos after her release, she looked straight ahead and refused to answer questions we posed as she headed off with a hastily arranged bail bondsman.
Clay, meanwhile, was forced to spend another night behind bars in Clinton after his bond money could not be arranged in time – but was released 12 hours later Wednesday morning, DailyMail.com can reveal.
The bespectacled mom shed her orange prison jump suit and emerged to her freedom wearing a blue top with white spots and blue pants. Her short blond hair appeared in disarray.
She refused to say if she felt any remorse over Lacey, who died covered in feces and sunk in a hole in a sofa worn by her emaciated body at her parents’ otherwise tidy home.
An undated photo of Clay and Sheila Fletcher standing in front of their Christmas tree
Clay Fletcher, shown with Sheila in undated photo, is an officer of the nonprofit Baton Rouge Civil War Roundtable, which has a mission ‘to educate and foster an appreciation for the sacrifices made by all during the Civil War’
The mother, looking gaunt, also just stared ahead when we asked why her daughter did not move from the couch for 12 years – a fact revealed by East Feliciana Parish Coroner Dr Ewell Bickham.
Clay Fletcher was released at 10.25am local time Wednesday after his $300,000 bond was sorted following the delay the previous evening.
Sheila was seen returning to the jail with the same bondsman to pick up her husband around 10am, wearing a dark red top, blue pants, white sneakers and carrying a large gold colored bag.
She emerged with Clay after he stripped off his orange jumpsuit and completed the necessary paperwork to allow him to walk to freedom.
Dressed in a blue shirt, the husband also just stared ahead as he made his way swiftly to the pick-up truck parked close to the jail’s front reception door.
Neither of the couple responded to the same questions DailyMail.com asked Sheila the previous evening.
The pair’s release followed an order by a judge late Tuesday afternoon setting the bond for each parent at $300,000.
They used a bondsman, which means they had to put up 12 per cent – $72,000 to cover them both.
The parents were arrested after a grand jury in Clinton agreed with District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla that they should face second-degree murder charges and not manslaughter.
East Feliciana Parish Jail houses roughly 250 inmates, with several of them awaiting murder charges.
DA D’Quilla told DailyMail.com the couple’s first arraignment is likely to be within two months and a trial could commence as early as October.
The grand jury were shown extensive images of the conditions in which Lacey was found. Dr Bickham told DailyMail.com they were so horrific and upsetting that medics were on standby for the 12 panel members.
He added that the photos of the scene left those in the room speechless.
‘When I was presenting the case and showed the pictures and gave the timeline the expressions of the grand jury was utter shock, he said. ‘Like the clock on the wall never moved again.
‘There was complete silence. Some jurors were gasping in horror. Some were staring in disbelief.’
Bickham also told the DailyMail.com that the case has been really hard on him personally and described Monday’s grand jury proceedings as ‘long emotional day’.
He added: ‘Seeing those photos again and reliving this traumatic experience again was really hard.’
Speaking outside court after the grand jury decision, the coroner revealed that Lacey had been on the couch for at least 12 years.
‘Evidence wise, a minimum of 12 years,’ he said. ‘Could be before that. At least 12 years. A terribly long period of time.’
Dr Bickham also revealed the full horrific cause of death.
He said: ‘The cause of death stemmed from severe medical neglect, which led to chronic malnutrition, acute starvation, immobility, acute ulcer formation, osteomyelitis which is bone infection which led finally to sepsis.’
Lacey was suffering from social anxiety and severe autism, he added. The last time she saw a physician was when she was 16.
The tragedy is even more of a mystery as Sheila Fletcher worked for authorities who might have helped her daughter.
She was a police and court clerk in the small nearby city of Baker and more recently an assistant to the city prosecutor in Zachary, a slighter larger community also nearby.
The mom was also on Slaughter’s Board of Alderman but quit on January 24 following four years’ service and three weeks after the horror discovery.
Clay Fletcher is an officer of non-profit Baton Rouge Civil War Roundtable, which has a mission ‘to educate and foster an appreciation for the sacrifices made by all during the Civil War’.
The couple’s lawyer Steven Moore has said in a statement: ‘They don’t want to relive the pain of losing a child through the media.
‘They have been through a lot of heartache over the years. Anyone who had lost a child knows what it’s like.