LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Ila Solomon looks like any grief-stricken widow, crying when she talks about the way her husband died and smiling fondly when she recounts the good times they shared.
Despite that, authorities say her story doesn't add up.
Solomon, 54, insists that Gerald "Scooter" Gavan Jr., an elderly veteran she married in 2012, died of a stroke just five days before his severely decomposed body was discovered last spring lying on their living room carpet.
Tippecanoe County Coroner Donna Avolt determined, however, that Gavan, 88, had been dead more than nine months. Neighbors saw Solomon living in the home during that time.
The investigation is ongoing, but Avolt said Gavan's legal date of death is based on the findings of a forensic entomologist. Solomon asserted Sunday that she may hire an entomologist of her own in an attempt to disprove the official record.
Her husband's death certificate isn't the only official record Solomon disputes.
The marriage license issued to Solomon and Gavan states that neither of them had ever been married previously, but a Journal & Courier investigation proves otherwise.
Solomon had, in fact, been married at least three times before she tied the knot with Gavan — a fact she denies.
Solomon may soon have to face even more facts as presented by authorities.
Lafayette police Detective Lt. John Withers said he completed his investigatory report Tuesday and sent it to the Tippecanoe County Prosecutor's Office.
Withers said last month he was scouring financial records for any signs of fraud in the case. The final record he had requested came in Tuesday, Withers said.
Failure to report a dead body to authorities within three hours of discovering it is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, according to state law in force at the time of Gavan's death.
It will be up to the prosecutor, though, to determine whether that or any other criminal charge should be filed against Solomon.
Widow returns federal benefits
Solomon said she's repaid the federal government more than $20,000 in funds disbursed to her dead husband.
She showed bank statements to the Journal & Courier as evidence that the funds had been remitted.
"They just reach into the account and take it out," she said Sunday.
"It took a little while," she added, "so then I had some bounce fees, but I just had to move it from savings to checking."
The government reclaimed more than $1,250 per month in Social Security benefits plus $900 per month for Gavan's military pension, Solomon said.
She acknowledged that the government took back 10 months' worth of payments, reflecting Gavan's legal date of death, not her claim that Gavan had been dead just five days.
Gavan, a veteran of the U.S. Army, had also been receiving about $250 per month from Veterans Affairs for the Purple Heart honor he carried after being shot during World War II, Solomon said.
"The VA is slow about everything," she said. "I've reached out to the VA to pay them back."
Records point to serial widow
Solomon has been legally married at least four times, according to official records reviewed by the Journal & Courier, but she denies that two ever happened.
In 1978, at age 19, Ila Ziesewiss married Wendell Solomon in Lake County — a fact she acknowledges. She divorced him in 1994.
A cleaning crew works Tuesday on a house in the 800 block of Shawnee Avenue in Lafayette's Highland Park, where the body of an elderly man was found late Saturday. (Photo: Steven Porter/Journal & Courier )
Nine days after that divorce was finalized, Solomon married truck driver Jerry Eaton of Terre Haute in Henderson County, Ky.
Jon O. Phillips, Solomon's third known husband, died of cancer more than three years ago at age 60, still legally married to Solomon, but his obituary didn't mention her.
A brother, Cody Phillips, of Hillsboro, Ore., said he didn't know Solomon well and had never attended a wedding ceremony, but it was his understanding that the woman and his brother were in a romantic relationship.
"He lived in her house for a while, and then she lived in his house for a while," he said.
Solomon claims that Phillips was, like Eaton before him, merely one of her "tenants" and that he had attempted to "rob her blind" with the help of his son.
The license for Solomon's third marriage states that she had been married once previously and widowed. That would suggest that Eaton, her second husband, died while married to Solomon, since her first marriage ended in divorce.
If that's the case, then three of Solomon's four known marriages ended in death.
Bizarre death investigation
Solomon married Gavan, her fourth known husband, on April 9, 2012.
She did so in Henderson County, Ky., where she wed Eaton a little less than 18 years prior.
Solomon said she grew up knowing Gavan as "Uncle Red," a family friend 35 years her senior. She moved in with him at his request, she said, in 2000.
Everything she did for him afterward has been rooted in a deep love, she said.
"I love Scooter," she said. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for him."
Solomon said Gavan asked her to marry him after hospital personnel wouldn't permit Solomon to make decisions about the octogenarian's health care.
Solomon said she knew it was a misdemeanor not to report her husband's death, but she thought the law provides for one week before a failure to act becomes criminal.
She delayed telling authorities about the death because, she claimed, Gavan had a specific request she hoped to fulfill for him. He wanted his body to be eaten by birds, she said, explaining that she would open the side door to the living room each night in hopes that birds would fly in and feed on her husband.
"That's kind of a little thing, isn't it? Keep a secret and open the door?" she said. "All he wanted me to do was just keep his secret and open the door."
Solomon said dehumidifiers, rodents and flies accelerated the decomposition of Gavan's body enough in five days for a professional forensic entomologist to think he'd been dead since July 2013.
She explained that the dehumidifiers were present to dry out lumber for Gavan's woodworking projects, the flies came from fertilizer in the house and the rodents were supposed to be fed to Gavan's pet snakes, which have since gone missing.
On Sunday, she added "hormones and pheromones" to the list of things that supposedly accelerated the decomposition of her husband's body. Gavan partook of the substances in the 1960s to improve his athletic performance, Solomon said, suggesting that traces of the substances must have caused flies to attack Gavan's flesh more voraciously when he died 50 years later.
The coroner said enhanced toxicology results are in, but the precise cause and manner of Gavan's death remain undetermined.
Avolt said her office never publicly releases toxicology reports. Her investigation is ongoing.