It’s an economic fact that not all businesses will last forever. Eventually competition will outshine them, or perhaps their location will become undesirable. Maybe mismanaged finances will force them out of business. When this happens in most industries, business owners liquidate their assets, sell their real estate, and move on. In this situation, leaving behind a random desk lamp or piece of machinery in the old facility is just a bonus for the next owner. Unless you’re a funeral home. And it’s not furniture or equipment you’re abandoning. It’s cremains, a body, or a number of both.
Hidden bodiesSeveral recent news stories have focused on funeral home owners who have gone out of business but neglected to properly dispose of their human inventories. In some cases it’s not known if the owners were aware of their oversight, but it’s extremely hard to believe they weren’t. In October 2018, the decomposing bodies of 11 infants and stillborn babies were found in the ceiling of a former funeral home in Detroit. Authorities shut down Cantrell Funeral Home in April 2018 due to “deplorable, unsanitary conditions” and improper storage of bodies. During the April inspection officials found six decaying bodies and 300 boxes of cremains, including 24 containing remains of veterans. An anonymous tip about bodies in the “crawlspace” led authorities to the October discovery.
The cremated remains of 48 people were found by “urban explorers” in an abandoned Philadelphia funeral home last month. The trespassers found boxes of cremains piled on a desk in a closet in the former Baker Funeral Home. They sent photos of the scene to the local newspaper. Authorities ordered Baker’s owner to shut down in September 2017, although it’s not clear when he actually went out of business. However, some of the cremains date back to 2000.
In the Cantrell case, another Detroit-area funeral home stepped up to give the remains dignified and proper dispositions. Verheyden Funeral Home buried the bodies in lots donated by a local cemetery using donated vaults. Verheyden owner Brian Joseph then gathered 20 local deathcare professionals to assist in placing the cremains in urns.
After touching community services, Verheyden’s team laid the veterans’ remains to rest in a columbarium in Great Lakes National Cemetery. Mt. Olivet Cemetery provided a crypt for the remaining 200+ souls. Joseph is still working to identify remains and notify families, and maintains a running list on his website.
Who’s to blame?