A caring nature hid desperation of Florida mom who took her life in Cass County woods

A caring nature hid desperation of Florida mom who took her life in Cass County woods
Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan

She was beautiful and generous, a real free spirit who loved her children.

She was also broke and in trouble for taking money from work.

And it could probably be said of the Florida woman whose body was found in Nebraska that she was desperate.

Desperate enough to put a 19-year-old loose acquaintance in charge of her three younger children as she fled Florida. Desperate enough to lie about where she was going. Desperate enough to take a Nebraska man’s one-way plane ticket to Omaha, follow him into the woods west of Weeping Water and, on Aug. 1, kill herself.

In the wake of a strange and gruesome news story about assisted suicide, a portrait of Alicia Wilemon-Sullivan is starting to emerge.

According to public records and interviews with three people who said they knew her, the 38-year-old mother of four from Orange City, Florida, seemed an unlikely candidate for suicide.

She did not seem depressed, said Warren Clatterbuck, a fuel tank driver in Orange City who identified himself as her former fiancé.

Clatterbuck said Wilemon-Sullivan complained about physical ailments — a foot that was smashed in an old accident; a hysterectomy a year ago; low blood pressure from “bad iron,” as he put it; nights of vomiting.

She even told him she had cancer — something the Nebraskan charged in connection with her death had told authorities. Clatterbuck never believed she had it. He took her to the doctor and to emergency rooms, and cancer never came up.

Matthew Stubbendieck, a 41-year-old man who lived in Florida until June, when he returned to Nebraska, told Cass County Sheriff’s Office investigators that Wilemon-Sullivan had stage 4 cancer and was going to die. That’s why he helped her commit suicide, he said. An autopsy, though, did not find masses or lumps.

Regenia Yoder, who employed Wilemon-Sullivan for less than a year at her family-owned sign shop in Maitland, Florida, said Wilemon-Sullivan never mentioned cancer. She said the receptionist’s death was tragic and mind-boggling.

Yoder described Wilemon-Sullivan as so naturally beautiful she didn’t wear makeup, and with a demeanor that was “angelic.” She said the mother would always talk about her children — ages 19, 15, 12 and 7 — and especially seemed to dote on the youngest, her only daughter.

“Sweetest person you ever met. I know that she loved her kids. They were everything to her,” Yoder said, adding: “I just can’t wrap my mind around her having killed herself.”

But Wilemon-Sullivan allegedly stole from Yoder. According to a Seminole County sheriff’s report, Wilemon-Sullivan forged and cashed three checks totaling $1,183 in the month before she died. Wilemon-Sullivan flew to Omaha on July 31 and likely died the next day after apparently cutting herself during an ordeal that lasted at least seven hours. Authorities found her body Aug. 5.

Yoder declined to comment on the alleged theft, saying only that she wished Wilemon-Sullivan had reached out for help.

Wilemon-Sullivan did reach out — to Kenny Johnson, the 19-year-old friend of her oldest son, Seth, of Mississippi. Seth, Kenny and a third young man briefly lived with Wilemon-Sullivan and her three younger children earlier this year. Kenny described Wilemon-Sullivan as “a cool mom,” someone who welcomed and fed them.

So when she called out of the blue in July for a favor — to watch the three younger kids while she went to the Florida Keys on vacation — he said yes. Johnson, who by then had moved out of her home, was attending a family reunion in Detroit. Wilemon-Sullivan asked when he was returning to Orlando. He told her July 31.

She met him at Orlando International Airport, handed him $200 and her truck keys. She was crying, hard. Johnson chalked it up to the emotion of leaving her kids for a week. She texted him later that day to see if day care pickup had gone OK; it had. He tried to call her but his call to her phone went straight to voicemail — something he didn’t question. Maybe she had no cell service in the Keys.

Johnson said he never heard Wilemon-Sullivan say she had cancer. And he hardly knew Stubbendieck, just “a ‘hey’ and a ‘hi’ and that’s it” the one time they’d met.

Johnson said the man they all knew in Wilemon-Sullivan’s life was Clatterbuck.

It was Clatterbuck’s name that Wilemon-Sullivan had given Yoder as an emergency contact. It was Clatterbuck who called authorities when she was missing. It was Clatterbuck who later cleaned out her house and watched her repossessed furniture get carted away.

None of what Clatterbuck has heard about Wilemon-Sullivan’s death makes any sense to him.

Not her outward bearing: “She showed no depression. None. None at all.”

Not her suicide. “She left nothing for me — nothing,” he said, referring to an explanation.

Certainly he did not understand Stubbendieck, who since Wilemon-Sullivan’s death has texted Clatterbuck and members of the family about coming to Florida to see the kids. Clatterbuck met him once earlier this year, finding Stubbendieck curled up on the couch with Wilemon-Sullivan, asleep. Clatterbuck had trouble shaking them awake.

Clatterbuck demanded to know who he was.

“I’m her husband,” Stubbendieck answered him.

Clatterbuck said he hit Stubbendieck and left. He said Wilemon-Sullivan later told him that Stubbendieck was an old friend from work, but she had cheated on him before.

“I loved this girl with all my heart, you have no clue,” Clatterbuck said. “We went to church together. We did everything together. For seven years.”

Clatterbuck said Wilemon-Sullivan was born in Florida, spent some time in a group home and had a rocky, distant relationship with her parents, Don and Shirley Wilemon of Florida. He said Wilemon-Sullivan had Seth when she was a teenager. She later married Andy Sullivan, who Clatterbuck said works  in the engineering field and moved around a lot for his job. The couple finally divorced in 2015.

For a while, Wilemon-Sullivan and Clatterbuck lived together in the Panhandle city of Crestview. Clatterbuck moved to Orange City. He said Wilemon-Sullivan followed him there “to work things out.”

She still regularly drove to the Panhandle, a seven-hour trip from Orange City, ostensibly to take her kids to see their dad.

Yoder, her boss, saw this as part of Wilemon-Sullivan’s generosity, along with her willingness to take in those three 19-year-olds and her invitation to fellow sign shop employees with no place to go for Easter dinner to share a big ham at her house.

“She was a great mom. And a truly good person.”

Her memorial service was small and held at the home of her parents, Clatterbuck said.

Don Wilemon has declined to talk about his daughter’s life except to say she loved her children. He said the family pushed for prosecution.

Stubbendieck was charged Oct. 10 with felony assisting suicide. He pleaded not guilty last week and is awaiting a couple of scheduled hearings: one Tuesday on his request for lower bail and a Nov. 9 preliminary hearing. He was still housed in the Cass County Jail as of Saturday.

Stubbendieck grew up in Weeping Water, where his father, Howard, was mayor. Nebraska court records show multiple but low-level alcohol- and drug-related misdemeanors and one bad-check charge.

Florida court records show a 2004 charge for loitering and prowling in Florida and a short-lived marriage in 2006. According to his father, Stubbendieck has a young daughter in Florida whom he rarely gets to see. He last lived in Chipley, which is in the Florida Panhandle.

On his Facebook page, Stubbendieck has a photo of himself with Wilemon-Sullivan. He listed his relationship status as “engaged.”

An investigator said that text messages between the pair showed they had planned this act for about a month. They had lined up medication — among the chemicals found in her body was morphine. Wounds on Wilemon-Sullivan’s forearms and wrists were consistent with self-inflicted cutting. Stubbendieck told authorities he had tried to suffocate her but could not go through with it.

His father said that he couldn’t make sense of it either — but his son had told him he did it out of love. She had told the Stubbendiecks at dinner she didn’t have long.

The two spent her final hours in some woods near an old quarry lake that is scenic and quiet, a mile west of Weeping Water. According to legend, the town in western Cass County got its name from an old Indian battle where lives were lost. And a creek formed.

From tears.

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