8 Decomposing Bodies Found At Funeral Home
8 decomposing bodies found stored at funeral home
Eight embalmed bodies in various states of decomposition were found yesterday at a central-Toledo funeral home that has a history of problems with record-keeping.
Authorities said they found six bodies in a back building at the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home, 639 Indiana Ave., and two in an adjacent garage. The bodies appear to have been there for at least several months.
At least one of the bodies was "badly chewed" by rodents on its face, fingers, hands, and feet, Toledo police Capt. Ron Spann said.
The bodies include at least six African-Americans. Three were women. All appear to be adults. At least six bodies were in cardboard boxes used by crematoriums. One body was found in a casket in the garage, the captain said.
The bodies were found while an inspector with the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors was investigating a call the agency received Thursday about decomposed bodies on the property, said Ann Cunningham, the board's executive director. She declined to say who called the board because of the investigation.
"We take that very seriously. We wanted to see if that was true. We don't get these very often," she said.
Earlier this month, the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department sent a letter to the funeral home's owner, Henry Harden, informing him that he was in violation of state law for failing to file five death certificates within five days of the date of the deaths. Mr. Harden owns the funeral home with his wife, Sandra, both of whom are licensed funeral directors.
Dr. James Patrick, Lucas County coroner, said his office will help determine the condition and identification of the bodies as well as provide temporary cold storage. He anticipates it will be next week - longer if DNA identification is required - before his office will be able to make any reports to the investigating agencies.
Captain Spann said the bodies are supposed to be identified with a toe tag and a card; however, that was not the case with some of the bodies. Officials said the identifications will be released once relatives have been notified.
The discovery upset many people who stood in the sun outside the taped-off funeral home as investigators and other officials spent several hours searching through the 21/2-story building and garage.
"It's just not right," said Dorothy Robinson, whose mother was cremated in March, or so she believed.
Now, she said, she's not so sure. The family has yet to receive the ashes or death certificate. "He was so understanding," she said of Mr. Harden. "I would never have thought this - never."
Ms. Robinson's niece, Vikie McDonald, said she was alerted to the situation after Mr. Harden yesterday approached her sister and asked her for some information about her grandmother. When her sister asked Mr. Harden why he needed to know, "he turned around and walked out."
Despite the circumstances, business at the funeral home carried on as usual. Mr. Harden periodically opened the door to accept flowers and talk with people.
"We're having a visitation and funeral. Everything is going on as usual," he told a Blade photographer.
When asked if he wanted to comment on the situation, Mr. Harden declined comment at the scene twice and did not return a telephone call.
The Hardens have not been charged. Captain Spann said investigators have talked with them, but he declined to disclose what was said.
However, officials said the Hardens could face charges.
"We want to let the families know that we will pursue this all the way and get a full report to the community," Toledo Mayor Jack Ford said. "This is unconscionable."
William Urbanski, the immediate past president of the Northwest Ohio Funeral Directors Association, agreed.
"That's a very abnormal situation," said Mr. Urbanski, who also is funeral director at the Bedford Funeral Chapel in Temperance. "It's just deplorable.''
But this isn't the first time the funeral home has had problems.
The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department has been working with the Ohio Department of Health off and on since 1994 in regard to the funeral home's filing of death certificates, said Michelle Loparo, a spokesman with the state agency.
The local health department sent Mr. Harden a letter June 4 regarding five death certificates that hadn't been filed in a timely fashion. The letter asked him to submit the certificates to the local agency within three business days after receiving the correspondence. The letter stated the agency wrote Mr. Harden notes May 7 reminding him of the missing certificates without any success.
"This appears to be an ongoing problem, and we need to resolve this issue. We are ready to take legal action if this does not get resolved," the letter said.
The state health department sent Mr. Harden a letter June 12 about the missing certificates and asked him to submit a written explanation as to why he "consistently file[s] death certificates in violation of the law."
Ms. Loparo said the state health department visited the funeral home in 1994 and the local health department sent letters to the business in 1999 and 2001 regarding death certificate filings.
In 1999, Mr. Harden was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine, which was suspended, for failing to file price lists to prospective clients.
Ms. Cunningham said the state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has logged about a dozen complaints about the funeral home, including letters sent by the local and state health departments.
She said the licenses of Mr. Harden and the funeral home were suspended for about a month between 1994 and 1995 for failing to file a preneeds contract, which basically lists those who have prepaid for funeral expenses.
Neither the Hardens nor the funeral home currently face any administrative action from Ms. Cunningham's board. However, their licenses could be suspended or revoked.
Ms. Cunningham said it will be up to her board to determine whether it will issue a summary suspension, which would order the funeral home closed. She said her office is talking with the Ohio attorney general's office. The board will then be advised.
The funeral home has been licensed since 1984, when Ms. Cunningham's board started licensing funeral homes. It was originally called V.T. Sherrill Funeral Home. The Harden name was added in 1984, she said.
Officials didn't say why the bodies had been there so long, but Mr. Urbanski said minor delays in burying or cremating bodies aren't uncommon. Death certificates must be received by a funeral home before cremation can occur. A temporary death certificate must be in hand for burial. Usually, any delay is only a few days, he said.
Mark Merz, current president of the funeral directors association, called the situation "horrific."
"There is absolutely no reason for something like this to have taken place," said Mr. Merz, a director at the Blanchard Brothers Funeral Home in Toledo.
While allegations of improperly disposing of bodies are rare at Toledo-area funeral homes, there have been some past incidents.
In 1985, Paul Tohle, Jr., who operated Tohle Mortuary in Toledo, was found guilty of two felony counts of failing to bury bodies and received a one-year suspended sentence. He failed to bury three bodies in his care; in one case a body was held for two months. The other two bodies had been held for more than a week without burial.
In 1970, Toledo mortician Jacob Jones of the former Jones Brothers Mortuary was convicted of disposing of a body without a burial permit and sentenced to 45 days in jail.
The most infamous case in recent memory of improperly disposing of bodies occurred in Lafayette, Ga.
Last year, investigators there discovered a crematory operator had simply strewn more than 300 bodies across his property.
If you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance...Baffle 'em with bullshit
My Karma ran over my Dogma
God WAS my co-pilot...But, we crashed in the mountains and...I had to eat him
I'm suffocating in what's become of me...
The rancid remains of what I used to be
That was some post!!! I didn't read it through coz it was too long.. But damn! People should have some RESPECT, even for the dead... What has the world turn into???
"Cut him," Machine said. "Cut him while I stand here and watch. I want to see the blood flow. Dont make me tell you twice"
-by George Stark
Stifler's Mom For President!