The morbid discovery of 11 babies’ corpses in the ceiling of a former funeral home in Detroit, and the investigation into who hid them — and why — follows other incidents over the years that have stoked dark fears about the mortuary business across the country.
On Friday, the badly decomposed bodies of 11 infants were found in the ceiling of former Cantrell Funeral Home on Detroit’s east side, police said. State investigators had received an anonymous letter explaining how to find the bodies.
Detroit police Lt. Brian Bowser was unable to say how long the remains had been stored there or how old they were. But he said he was upset “by the callousness” of whoever had placed the remains of infants, some of them apparently stillborn, inside a cardboard box hidden in the drop-down ceiling of a stairwell.
More: Police: 11 infant bodies found in the ceiling of a former funeral home
Other incidents have prompted numerous warnings from home associations, and consumer groups warn of schemes, scams — and offer advice to loved ones and older Americans planning ahead for their deaths on how to protect themselves.
“The typical funeral these days costs almost $8,000,” AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans, warned in a previous bulletin. “Often it’s planned by family members who are emotionally vulnerable, unsure of costs, and in a rush to get things settled — a recipe for exploitation.”
One of the worst industry cases involving may have been in 2002, when national attention was focused on Tri-State Crematory, in Noble, Ga., where more than 300 bodies were supposed to be cremated but were instead left to decay on the property in sheds, in pits and stacked in vaults.
The manager, Ray Brent March, was prosecuted and later sued. Family and funeral directors who had contracted with the crematory felt betrayed — and horrified. Initially, police said, Marsh had told them the incinerator was broken. The indictment against Marsh cited 787 felony counts, carrying a possible sentence of thousands of years in prison. He pleaded guilty to theft, fraud, making false statements and abuse of a dead body.
Friday’s incident comes on the heels of others in Michigan.
In January, another Detroit funeral home, Barksdale, was closed after inspectors found unsanitary conditions including blood-stained equipment and rat-infested cremated remains, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulation.
In March, a Petoskey funeral home was shut down after a rusty machete was found on a counter in the embalming room, human cremated remains were stored alongside those of a pet dog and pig, and embalmed bodies were left in an unrefrigerated garage, according to news reports.
In 2017, the state shuttered Jarzembowski Funeral Home for improperly handling nearly $200,000 in 43 pre-paid funeral contracts.
And in 2016, Swanson Funeral Home in Flint faced disciplinary action after a state inspector found decomposing bodies in the funeral home’s garage. The funeral home, at the time, offered discounted cremations.
Complaints were filed with the state Board of Mortuary Science.
“The place just reeked to death. It smelled like decomposition,” Darin Vickers, owner and director of Vickers Leslie and Springport Funeral Homes, who went to the home to pick up a body, was quoted saying in a news report. “I’m a country kid and a funeral director. I’m used to bad smells. That place was disgusting.”
O’Neil Swanson III was charged with 10 felony counts of funeral contracts conversion in June by the state attorney general. He was accused of offering prepaid funeral contracts that he was not legally licensed to offer in a funeral home.
And in 2005, three men posing as funeral home employees stole a body from Providence Hospital in Southfield, police said. Authorities added that the unusual heist was likely part of a scheme to defraud an insurance company.
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