"In the beginning, I really believe Rose was duped by Carolyn," Romeo said. "She feared for her children's lives, her husband's. I believe Carolyn went slowly, by playing on Rose's compassion, her sense of goodwill to people. She would come in all beat up, and Rose would take care of her."
The weirdness escalated: Stevens would bring Turford a hangman's puzzle to decipher; it would contain demands from "Avery" to travel to Colorado. "Avery" forced the women to contact a dating service in January and begin preying on its male clients, and "Avery" whisked them away into the unknown on May 22, leaving their families dismayed, authorities deeply frustrated and tabloid-followers panting for more.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are on the trail now and, despite their motto that they always get their man, so far the two women have eluded capture.
Houston police believe the pair probably are holed up somewhere in Canada; in late June, Stevens, using her true identification, rented a car near Edmonton, Alberta. It was found abandoned near Toronto in early July, with a note of apology inside for the lateness of the return.
Mike Lamson, a Houston attorney who represents Turford, says his client's defense is "duress." Stevens' lawyer, Bill Burge, could not be reached for comment.
"I don't know if Avery is a person or an organization," Lamson said.
Romeo has a good idea. So do Houston police.
"We feel like this is somebody Carolyn Stevens dreamed up," Hardesty said, "that Avery is basically Joyce Carolyn Stevens."
"Nobody's that smart, nobody's that powerful," Romeo said. "I'd be willing to bet anything I own, and can put my hands on, and give the person 2 to 1 odds, that Carolyn is Avery."
Romeo predicts Turford will break first. Her three sons, ages 4, 11, and 13, miss her terribly. Her 37th birthday was last month. She is not accustomed to life on the run.
"I think Rose is probably getting fed up with all of this," he said. "She's not used to living this way. I hope this whole thing ends up anticlimactic--all they have to do is come home and get the best legal counsel available and get this thing closed."