It's within our nature to trust our family, especially when we're growing up. Familial bonds are the first connections we make, and because of the value placed on the family by society at large, they tend to be the strongest too.
That's why, should a family member show their true colors and reveal they're not to be trusted at all, it can send destructive ripples through an entire family structure, altering dozens of relationships forever. This very thing happened to one American family after it was discovered one woman and her husband were harboring a dark secret for years.
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A Perfect Grandfather
Mike Carroll, 81, was a caring, fun-loving grandfather to his many grandchildren. He was described as a prankster, stubborn at times but a lively soul all the same, knowing exactly how to make his family smile.
He was a veteran who worked as an accountant after serving in the military. He and his wife, Margaret Elinor Carroll, lived on the first floor of a family home they purchased in the 1970s. In the '90s, his daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Kirk Ritter, moved onto the second floor with their three children.
One of his other grandkids, who chose to remain anonymous when speaking about what happened to her grandfather, loved going to his house when she was growing up. She got to see her beloved grandparents as well as her aunt, uncle, and cousins all in one go, making every visit a joyous family reunion.
The Carrolls never moved out of that home, remaining there until they passed. And, in Mike's case, long after the fact, too.
Mike Carroll died in 2016. His body remained in his home until 2022.
And No One Knew He Was There
Kirk Ritter was the one to eventually call the police on October 23rd, 2022. For those entire six years, the Carroll extended family believed Mike was still alive, as his death had never been reported.
Instead, his body was harbored inside his home while his daughter, son-in-law, and sometimes even grandchildren lived above it.
The rest of Mike's family is now rallying for justice, wanting to know exactly what happened and what the Ritters' motive was for keeping his death a secret for so many years.
Various members of the Carroll family reported that they were fed excuses over the years for why they weren't able to speak with Mike. Sometimes he was busy eating, other times he was asleep, whatever the Ritters could seemingly think of to keep people from asking questions. Their extended family all living out of state made that easier, as it was harder for them to come to visit on a whim.
"You wouldn't expect your own family to do that," Mike's granddaughter said.
When he called it in, he reported it as a "man found dead in the home," according to John Lacy, a spokesman for the Overland Park Police Department.
After calling the police, Kirk also called the family to tell them of Mike's death. Even then, he still wasn't completely honest with them, as he neglected to include the part where his body had remained in their home for six years.
"We were absolutely shocked. He told us that he's buried with Grandma.”
A Slow Reveal
Both of these calls came soon after Lynn Ritter suffered a heart attack that landed her in the hospital. It seemed that, with Lynn out of the house, Kirk finally felt like he was able to reveal the truth.
"I think Kirk got tired of it and took advantage of the fact that she was finally not in the house," Mike's granddaughter said.
One of Mike's nieces, Janet Carroll, was surprised that this case managed to give her some answers. "We were denied contact with him," she said. “And now we know why.”
What To Do Next
There are still plenty of questions yet to be answered, though.
The case was originally investigated as a suspicious death after the initial phone call, but Johnson County Medical Examiners were able to determine that Mike did, in fact, die of natural causes in 2016.
However, it's not technically illegal to keep a dead body in one's home in Kansas City. Lacy said in his statement that the closest charges they could press would be misdemeanor desecration charges per a city code, which "might not be fitting in this case."
Hadn't Moved An Inch
A detective told Mike's granddaughter that the investigating officers walked into the Carroll family home to find it filled with hoarder-like conditions that "stunk," with her grandfather's body lying on his bed in his bedroom. His cause of death was eventually found to be linked to his pacemaker, which suddenly stopped working during the night.
And yet, the Ritters continued to act as if nothing had happened. Lynn even continued to babysit her own grandchild in that same home for years to come.
One Possible Motive
This news, understandably, has shaken the family to its core. Now they need to reevaluate everything they knew about Lynn and Kirk.
Other family members reported the two as seeming "pretty normal" no one would have suspected they would commit such a heinous act.
The only potential motive they've thought of is the Ritters' reliance on some of Mike's resources. "I think they were very, very dependent on my grandfather's retirement and his Social Security," said another one of his nieces.
A story like this, alongside the absolute tragedy and shock that it entails, proves that no matter how close you are with someone, they're still capable of doing something you would never expect out of them. Sometimes that's for the better and you wind up pleasantly surprised, but other times it turns very dark, very fast.
It's also a reminder to maybe check up on your family more often. As in actually go visit them when you're able. No, there's not always a dark plot masking their death that you need to uncover, but it's good practice to show that you care about your older family members especially, and would be able to know if something suspect was going on.
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