By Chloé Morrison -
“We feel like we need some answers,” Carol Ann Stutte said Thursday night. “It is coming on six months and we still cannot get insurance to communicate with us. They still aren’t honoring parts of the policy.”
Carol Ann and Laura Stutte’s home was a complete loss. They are still paying insurance premiums and a mortgage on the destroyed home, in addition to paying for the home they are renting now and all the living expenses that come with it.
The senior investigator with the American National Property & Casualty Company, Stacy Jennings, said Thursday she could not comment on the situation.
The couple’s lawyer Margaret Held said that the insurance company should be reimbursing her clients for living expenses while the investigation is pending.
“It is not abnormal when you have a fire claim for the insurance company to take this long to investigate,” she said. “What is weird is that the insurance company isn’t paying reimbursement.”
The lawsuit, which Carol Ann and her domestic partner Laura Stutte filed Wednesday in Monroe County Chancery Court, identifies the couple’s former next door neighbor as the alleged arsonist.
The suit alleges that the neighbor, Janice Millsaps, is responsible for trespassing, malicious harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Millsaps could not be reached for comment.
The Stuttes were on a trip to Nashville when they got the call that their house had burned and was a total loss.
Soon after the fire, authorities with the Monroe County Sheriff’s department confirmed that they were investigating the incident as an arson and said they had people of interest in the case.
But since those initial comments, Monroe County authorities — including a detective and the sheriff — have not returned calls seeking updated information about the status of the investigation.
Stacie Bohanan, public affairs specialist with the FBI’s Knoxville office, said Thursday she could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
Lawsuit seeks $880,000
According to the lawsuit, the couple bought the Vonore home in June 2005 for $149,000 and invested money in improving the home. At the time of the fire the property was insured for $206,000 and the Stuttes also insured their personal property, most of which was located in the home, for $154,000.
While living on the property, the couple was allegedly harassed and threatened by Millsaps.
The lawsuit said the harassment ranged from threatening to kill the couple’s dogs to threatening to burn the couple’s house.
The suit also alleges that Millsaps sometimes sneaked up to the couple when they were gardening or fishing from their dock and then would remark that she could have killed them “right then” and they wouldn’t have a chance to defend themselves.
The suit states that Millsaps threatened their lives making statements such as “there’s bodies in these hills that no one will ever find.”
She also allegedly made statements that she had friends on the police force who would ensure she was never caught if she killed the couple and that the community “takes care of things the old-fashioned way, the Millsaps way.”
When the couple’s home was burned, someone also spray-painted the word “queers” on the Stuttes’ detached garage.
The lawsuit alleges that a month before the fire, Millsaps asked the couple, “Do you know what is better than one dead queer? Two dead queers.”
The loss of their home, the threats and the stress of the situation has caused severe emotional distress, according to the suit.
The couple tried to reach out to Millsaps’ family to resolve the situation, but were unsuccessful, according to the suit.
The lawsuit seeks at least $880,000 in damages and that Millsaps stay away from the Stuttes, their property and their daughter.