Cover photo by Sean Myers Photography.

(In the print version of this story, the Sean’s last name was incorrect. It has been updated online.)

Therapist and horse trainer Stacey Carter is a resilient survivor; deeply compassionate, but tough enough to wryly joke about losing a man she loved to a serial killer.

“I think it’s my karma that I’ll probably never find a hoof trimmer that I really like because I didn’t appreciate Josh when he was here,” she said with a tearful smile.

Carter and Josh Wetzler broke up in 2005, the year after their son Jared was born. Four years later, Pazuzu Algarad murdered Wetzler.

The breakup was partially over marijuana and mushrooms. Carter had no moral objections to what she considered harmless drugs but didn’t want Jared living with a father who sold them.

Wetzler was a skilled harrier, or hoof trimmer, who refused to shoe horses, believing that practice inhumane. This lost him jobs even before he was arrested for purchasing mushrooms through the mail. With a felony on his record, he could no longer work in the trade he loved.

It was probably selling pot that led him to the house in Clemmons where Algarad shot him in the head and buried him in the backyard.

Algarad, born Jonathan Lawson, was already notorious in Clemmons and Winston-Salem for the drug-fueled parties in the home he shared with his mother and his girlfriend. When gossip started circulating that Algarad had boasted of murdering a man named Josh, Carter became the second person to tell the Sheriff’s Departments of Davie and Forsyth Counties that corpses were said to be buried behind the Lawson home.

The remains of Josh Wetzler and Tommy Welch remained there for five years, during which time the Forsyth County sheriff’s department received multiple reports, including one by Algarad’s own mother, of murders there. How and why is explained in filmmaker Patricia Gillespie’s five-part true-crime series The Devil You Know, which recently completed its run on Viceland, and which can be viewed on Viceland’s  YouTube channel.

In an email, writer/director Patricia Gillespie wrote of the woman who is thAmbere heart and hero of her series.

“I always saw Stacey as the protagonist. She is an incredible person who’s made lemons of the sourest lemonade. The kind of thing she’s doing– that’s the solution. Reaching out into our communities and finding ways to care for the folks that are struggling.”

Winston-Salem journalist Chad Nance, who served as the on-screen narrator of Gillespie’s series, had similar praise for Carter’s humanity and “incredibly deep well of empathy that led us to understand that the story was more than its grotesque details. But about those who remain and must live with the fallout.”

Over lunch in a Winston-Salem restaurant, Carter told me how she first learned what happened to Wetzler, about whom she’d filed a missing person report when he stopped visiting their son.

“I found out from a friend who adamantly did not want to go on the record. So, I went to the Davie County Sheriff’s Department and told Detective Meadows what I had heard, and they would not execute a search warrant without my source coming forward and giving her name. It took a lot of prodding, and she was out of the country, but I was able to get her to talk over the phone to the detective and give her information,” Carter explained. “She was promised that she would remain anonymous. After the search was conducted, I saw the search warrant that they had taken into the house, and it had both of our names listed on it, which could have put her in a really dangerous situation.”

This is not depicted or discussed in the Viceland series, which implies that Carter first learned of Wetzler’s death from Sylvia Lebeau. Carter said she’d already gotten her friend to talk to the sheriff by the time Carter met Lebeau, and that her friend still wishes to remain anonymous.

She also stressed that Wetzler was not part of Algarad’s circle and had nothing to do with heroin, the drug most frequently used at parties in the Lawson home.

“I think Josh probably went there to sell weed, didn’t like what he saw, and said something that got him killed,” Carter said. “Despite some of the later gossip, it was sudden and unpremeditated. Josh wasn’t held captive, he wasn’t starved or tortured, and he wasn’t mutilated.”

She described Wetzler as sarcastic and unfiltered, a man who would have readily mocked what another friend called Algarad’s “Hot Topic edgelord pseudo-Satanism,” and would have been appalled by Algarad’s claims of animal sacrifices.

“I used to joke that Josh could piss off the Pope,” Carter said. “I can easily see him getting into an argument and pissing off Pazuzu, who was probably drunk and high on heroin, and who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child.”

When Algarad and Amber Burch were arrested in October of 2014 for the 2009 murders of Wetzler and Welch, Algarad was on probation for a 2012 conviction for accessory after the fact in the shooting death of Joseph Emmrick Chandler, a Clemmons man whose body was found at Donnaha Park in June 2010. In the fifth episode of The Devil You Know, Nance has a moving conversation with Chandler’s mother, who accuses authorities of treating her as “as just another dead black man.” The documentary makes a strong case for Chandler’s death having been more than the “involuntary manslaughter” that Algarad’s friend Nicholas Pasquale Rizzi was convicted of, and for Algarad having been more than an accessory. Nance and many others believe that whoever pulled the trigger, it was Algarad’s idea to lure Chandler to the park to kill him.

Carter finds it distressing that Algarad “walked away with probation” in a shooting death while Wetzler “had his life ruined” by a felony conviction for purchasing mushrooms through the mail. Carter was born in Salisbury, which she left in 1999 and returned to in 2015. Her father bought her a mare named Baby when she was 12.

“I had no idea what I was doing, so my mom reluctantly started taking lessons so she could help me,” she said. “I rode competitively and taught lessons through high school. I did not anticipate getting a job in the horse business; I was actually pre-med up until my junior year of college. As a medical ethics major, I became completely disillusioned by the healthcare system. This was in 1991 and managed care was all the rage. I was appalled by how little attention the physicians paid to the patients, how quickly they prescribed a pill rather than a lifestyle change, and how the whole thing operated to fill the pockets of the insurance companies.”

Later, she learned about equine therapy, also called equine-assisted therapy (EAT), a form of experiential therapy that involves interactions between patients and horses.

“For the past 15 years, I have been dedicated to understanding the horse and how relationships with them can be mutually healing,” she explained.

Carter first met Wetzler in the summer of 1999 when she went on a rambling cross-country trip with her dog JoJo.

“I didn’t exactly have a plan, other than a lot of Widespread Panic shows, a big box of falafel mix and some friends scattered across the country that I planned to visit,” she said.

In Olympia, Washington, she “ended up at a big farmhouse where there was to be a party the following day. Later that night, Josh came home from his job at the Olympia Cheese Factory. We met, talked on the couch, and the next day had one of the best days ever.”

She and Wetzler ended up traveling together, “but driving a ‘77 Chevy van around gets expensive, so we ended up back in N.C. Josh decided to go to horseshoeing school, and after that, we moved to Mocksville. We rented a farm for a year or so but wanted to have our own place to operate a horse business.”

“Around that time, Josh got turned onto barefoot hoof trimming,” Carter continued. “Horseshoes can create many detrimental effects, and people were beginning to realize that it was better to mimic the natural wear of mustang hooves. True to his nature, Josh stopped putting shoes on horses. He just wouldn’t do it, even though we really needed the money. He lost a lot of clients that way. He was great at what he did, and if he was alive today, he would be absolutely amazing. It is hard to find a really good hoof trimmer that is also patient and kind with the horses.”

She described Wetzler as an idealist who “had trouble integrating his intuition, beliefs, and experiences into the ordinary world; believe it or not, I was the practical one!”

She also called him “a devoted father who loved his son more than anything in the world. We really had some magical times, and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”

“We were engaged, had land together, and considered ourselves common-law married, but we never went through with a wedding,” Carter said. “I moved out in 2005 when Jared was an infant. I wanted to sell the property, but Josh wanted to stay. Our relationship was strained, but we shared custody of Jared and would meet each other several times a week. That summer, I was in a riding accident; a horse landed on top of me. While recuperating, I found out that Josh hadn’t been paying the mortgage. There was nothing I could do and the bank foreclosed.”

“When he got arrested for having mushrooms delivered through the mail, he lost custody of Jared,” she continued. “He would still visit Jared, but couldn’t take him anywhere. He didn’t have much money and had to pay for his probation. He was a felon and couldn’t find a job. I didn’t see much of Josh toward the end, although he did come for the weekend shortly before he disappeared. He seemed to be in a decent head space, and we had a good time. He talked about working at the Renaissance Fair. He was helping the people that ran the camel rides. They wanted to take him on the road with them, but he couldn’t go because of the felony.”

“One of the things that stands out from this case is how someone like Josh can become a felon, and someone like Pazuzu can continue to do what he did for so long without any consequences?” Carter said. “When the search warrants were unsealed, and Winston-Salem Journal reporter Michael Hewlett told me the full extent of what had happened, I was in complete shock. I was not aware that Terina Billings had reported the crime soon after it happened, and that two anonymous Crimestopper tips and even Pazuzu’s mother Cynthia had done so at various points after myself, my source and Sylvia Lebeau did. It wasn’t until Matt Flowers went to the police and demanded action that anything was found.”

She said that she was pleased with her friend Patricia Gillespie’s documentary series.

“Trish’s original vision was to focus on the causes and possible solutions to major issues that need to be addressed,” Carter explained. “These include unchecked mental illness, injustices rooted in financial disparity, the opioid epidemic and the failure of the war on drugs. These are things that affect all of us in some way. While the documentary focuses on a specific incident and the people that were directly involved, these kinds of things are happening all the time throughout the country. I wanted to make this film to inspire action and change.”

“There is no quick fix for these problems,” she continued. “The government can’t fix it. It is up to communities to create themselves in a way that supports and protects individuals. Often addiction and mental illness are rooted in traumatic experiences. Apathy and escapism stem from a sense of hopelessness. I want to talk about how we can provide support to heal rather than attempt to punish the problem away.”

Gillespie suggested I ask Carter how she first met Flowers, the Iraq veteran who finally got the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department to dig up the Lawson backyard after law enforcement had ignored multiple reports from women.

“During the filming Matt Flowers came to my parents’ farm and rode a horse with me,” Carter said. “He was a natural. The horse brought out a gentleness in Matt that might not be seen by most people. Their connection was instant. I was hoping to see that scene in the film, but it was left out. While this was just one small act, these are the kinds of things that really make a difference. Creating spaces of healing and connection might be the most powerful action we can take.”

I asked her to talk about Heart Centered Horsemanship, the business she created that that encompasses training, instruction, and therapeutic services.

“Changing and shaping behavior begins with creating a space of safety and a connection based on trust and mutual respect,” Carter explained. “I believe this is true with people and with horses. The horses have taught me a tremendous amount about how we can heal from past trauma. I am beginning a new endeavor with Healing Connections, a partnership with Midnight’s Promise Equine Rescue that will bring therapists and their clients to the horse sanctuary to participate in mutually beneficial practices that develop trust, release triggers and facilitate relaxation. I believe in the future, health care will be something we do rather than something we take. It is about how we live our lives each day. It is about how we treat ourselves and others. It is about embodying practices that are nurturing. It is about finding our center of calm, peace, and love and extending that to others. Children should learn these practices at a young age. I believe that is how we will change the world.”

While Carter did not mention it, Healing Connections at Midnight’s Rescue has a GoFundMe that can be found here.

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