Friday, December 31, 2010

Coroner Acquitted of Marijuana Charge

Independence County Coroner Hardy Willis has been acquitted by an Arkansas federal court jury of a charge of distributing marijuana found hidden in a casket in a funeral home van.

The Batesville Daily Guard reported that the jury in U.S. District Court at Little Rock deliberated about two hours and 45 minutes before returning with its verdict.

Prosecutors charged Willis after a man was arrested in Texas on June 23, 2009, driving a van belonging to a funeral home. Investigators said they found 100 pounds of marijuana, hidden inside a casket. Willis reported the van stolen the day after the arrest.

Willis, who lost a bid for re-election this year, said he might run for coroner again in 2012.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Man Arrested for Stealing from Boys Casket

A 37-year-old man has been charged with desecrating the casket of an 11th-grader by reaching in and stealing two handheld video systems and three games.

Jody Lynn Bennett of Mentcle was arrested and jailed Wednesday.

State police in Indiana said Bennett stole the goods about 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Rairigh Funeral Home. Viewing for Bradley D. McCombs Jr. of Clymer had been scheduled to conclude at 9.

McCombs died Christmas morning in Cherryhill Township when he lost control of the SUV he was driving on a snowy road and struck a utility pole.

The boy’s uncle, Robert McCombs Jr., approached Bennett after Bennett got in his vehicle and was about to drive away.

He asked Bennett about a missing Game Boy.

“The defendant told the uncle that he did not have the Game Boy,” according to the affidavit of probable cause.

“The uncle then told the defendant that he could see the Game Boy inside the vehicle. The defendant then produced the Game Boy and returned it to the uncle.”

As that video system was being returned to the casket, family members noticed that a Game Boy Light and three games were missing.

Upon returning home, the boy’s father, Bradley D. McCombs, called Bennett on the phone but Bennett told him not to call again.

Neither Bradley nor Robert McCombs returned a call for comment Wednesday.

The value of the stolen goods was placed at $46.90.

Bennett faces misdemeanor counts of desecration, theft or sale of venerated objects; abuse of a corpse; institutional vandalism; theft; receiving stolen property; disorderly conduct and harassment.

A criminal records check indicates Bennett has a history of drinking and drug offenses dating to 2000.

Dianna Bennett said her nephew has caused embarrassment to the family.

Her family is close friends with the parents of the deceased 17-year-old.

Jody Bennett “has been into drugs, he’s into alcohol,” she told The Associated Press.

“He’s just messed up.”

He was being held in the Indiana County Jail in lieu of $15,000 straight cash bail set by District Judge Susanne Steffee of Homer City.

Rairigh Funeral Home declined comment for this story.

Bradley McCombs Jr. – who also was known by the nicknames “Boog” and “Ham” – was remembered as a football player and a member of Future Farmers of America. His hobbies included playing video games, collecting mythical creatures, drawing and hunting.


79 Year Old Woman Robbed Leaving Funeral

Police say a teenager has been arrested after he snatched a 79-year-old woman’s purse as she was leaving a funeral in Lewiston, Washington.

Lewiston Police Capt. Tom Greene says the Clarkston woman was walking out of a church on Wednesday at about noon when she was confronted by the 16-year-old boy on the sidewalk.

The Lewiston Tribune reports the teen allegedly grabbed the woman’s purse and ran away. The woman was not hurt. Greene says a police officer saw the teen run into a residence, and authorities arrested the boy within minutes.

Police say the teen faces charges of felony robbery. He has been booked into the Region II Juvenile Detention Center on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Australian Funeral Director Charged with Theft

THE BALLINA funeral director charged with stealing jewellery from corpses has proclaimed his innocence and says he will fight the charges.

Neil Gray, who co-owns Ballina Funeral Home with his estranged wife Cheryl, spoke to The Northern Star at his Moon Street premises yesterday.

“I’ve been advised not to comment on the case so all I’ve got to say at this stage is the accusations are totally unfounded and the truth will prevail,” he said.

Mr Gray was arrested on Wednesday following a three-month investigation into a large amount of jewellery allegedly taken from bodies before burial and cremation services.

He was charged with four counts of larceny and two counts of goods in custody, and was conditionally bailed to appear in Ballina Local Court next month.

Richmond Local Area Command crime manager, Detective Inspector Greg Moore, said that the jewellery was handed in to police in September.

“Ballina detectives have charged a 66-year-old funeral director though I’m limited to what I can say in relation to that investigation as the matter is currently before the courts,” he said.

“On December 8 we executed a search warrant at the premises where records were seized, and through our inquiries we’ve been able to locate four families who positively identified jewellery as belonging to their loved ones.”

Det Insp Moore said that in each case the families had requested that the jewellery be buried or cremated with their loved ones.

He called on anyone who might be able to identify the remaining jewellery to come forward to assist police.

The president of the Australian Funeral Directors Association, John Scott, said news of the arrest had sent shock waves through the industry.

“Unfortunately this sort of incident casts aspersions on the industry as a whole,” he said.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

More Alleged Victims of Funeral Home

KANSAS CITY, MO —A metro funeral home that is already in trouble with state regulators is facing new accusations from another family has stepped forward to say that the ashes they were given were not those of their loved one.

Earlier this week, the Missouri Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors revoked the license of Marts Memorial Funeral Home in Westport and owner Ronald Marts' personal funeral directors license effective at the end of the year. The move came after a Blue Springs man, Hadley Cutburth, said that the funeral home provided an urn with ashes inside for her funeral, but when Cutburth called the funeral home later to ask about his wife's death certificate, a secretary told him that she had his wife's ashes on her desk.

"I'm thinking 'How can she have a box of ashes'?" said Cutburth, who has filed a civil suit against Marts alleging fraud and negligence.

When the McNeal family of Kansas City heard the story on FOX 4 News, they said that they wondered if the same thing could have happened to them.

Lujuan McNeal says that her family picked up the ashes for their father, Harry McNeal, a year ago, but a call to Stonegate Crematorium on Thursday confirmed their fears, as the metal ID tag with the ashes does not match their father's records. According to the crematorium, their father was still being cremated when Ronald Marts handed them a box of ashes.

"We have someone else's ashes, which means they have incorrect ashes, which means another family has incorrect ashes," said McNeal. "There's no telling how many people this has actually effected."

McNeal says that her family is working with the crematorium to get the ashes they were given to their rightful owners, and they hope that somehow their father's ashes will still be found.

In a statement, Mart's attorney, Salvatore Mirabile, said that the ashes mix-up was not his clients fault.

"This story, if true, falls upon the crematorium, not my client. My client in no way handled the cremains of Mr. Harry McNeal. My client took the cremains of Mr. McNeal directly from the Stonegate Crematorium and gave them directly to the McNeal Family, after the family services," said Mirabile, who added "My client long ago, decided to discontinue using the Stonegate Crematorium."

If you are concerned about your loved one's ashes, check the death certificate to find out where they were cremated, and then call the crematorium to verify that the ID tag belongs to your loved one.


Elderly Woman Almost Buried Alive

Police in Brazil were investigating Monday after an 88-year-old woman was almost buried alive when a hospital declared her prematurely dead, Brazilian newspaper reported.

A death certificate was issued Dec. 22 for Dona Maria das Dores da Conceicao, claiming high blood pressure and clogged arteries as the cause, and a funeral was planned.

From there, she was due to be taken to a cemetery, before workers preparing her for burial at a funeral parlor in the eastern city of Ipatinga noticed signs of life.

She was returned to the hospital in Jaipur, still in the coffin, where doctors confirmed she was not dead. But efforts to keep her alive failed, and Friday she passed away, definitively, from heart failure.

Officers were investigating a potential medical error in the case.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Stafford Texas Funeral Home Violated Rules

A funeral home featured in a report about fraudulent practices last October has been found to be in violation of state statutes and rules.

The Texas Funeral Service Commission concluded its investigation of Rylan C. Scott Funeral Services earlier this month. The sanctions are the latest to be leveled against the small Stafford operation that has already faced previous fines for deceptive practices and poor customer service.

Leslie Robinson once paid Scott $2,000 to have her mother’s remains cremated. But she waited over six months for an urn of ashes that was never delivered. Instead, Leslie received them in a box that was handed to her late one night in the parking lot of a southeast Houston gas station.

“No one deserved to be treated like that,” she said.

Robinson’s account led to the state’s latest investigation.

Scott could not be reached for comment. It appears his Stafford operation has gone out of business.

Robinson said she’s relieved to know that what happened to her won’t happen to someone else.

“I don’t ever want him to practice again. I want him gone,” she said.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Funeral Home Won't Say What Happened To Body

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A woman said she is trying to find out what happened to the body of a relative who died last month, but the funeral home cannot or will not give a straight answer about the remains.

Marts Memorial Service and its funeral director lost their state licenses on Wednesday. The state said the funeral home continued to violate regulations while on probation. Marts was accused of improperly selling prepaid funeral packages, failing to embalm and store bodies correctly, and poor record keeping.

KMBC's Micheal Mahoney reported that Angel Rimmer's cousin, Richard Harrelson, died a month ago. Marts was supposed to handle the cremation. It was to be a simple indigent cremation.

"I'm like, 'Do you have him or don't you have him?' Well, he was supposed to be released today. You told me he's already been released,'" Rimmer said.

Rimmer said she has been having conversations like that with the owner of Marts Memorial Service funeral home -- Ronald Marts -- for weeks.

"Where is he now?" Mahoney asked Rimmer about her cousin's body.

"I don't know," Rimmer said.

Harrelson died at Truman Medical Center. He was broke. His family asked Jackson County to pay for an indigent funeral. It was approved, and the hospital was told to release the body to Marts funeral home.

"According to him, he's going to pick the body up today. But he's told us that three times," Rimmer said.

"What does the funeral home say now?" Mahoney asked.

"That he's got the body today. He's going to be cremated today. And he'll call me today," Rimmer said.

By the afternoon, Rimmer said she had not heard anything from Marts.

"I just want my cousin. You know what I'm saying? And I want to make sure it's him," Rimmer said.

Marts is referring media questions to an attorney, who has not returned calls to Mahoney.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Alabama Funeral Home Secretary Forges Document

A secretary at Anniston Funeral Services Inc. faces a January trial on felony charges of notarizing a forged document, Calhoun County sheriff’s deputies said Thursday.

Deputies arrested Anniston resident Venetta Patrice Rives on a charge of possession of a forged instrument Wednesday, after a funeral home client claimed he never signed a document that Rives had notarized.

Rives is the latest of several Anniston Funeral Services employees and associates to face legal trouble within the past year.

Funeral home owner Jeffery Williams has been arrested six times this year, on felony and misdemeanor charges of theft, assault, bond revocations and, most recently, refusing to surrender a corpse.

All of Williams’ theft charges involve variations of the same basic allegation — stealing insurance money from or overcharging his bereaved clients.

Amerson said deputies were looking for Williams Thursday evening to interview him about circumstances surrounding his secretary’s arrest.

Amerson declined to disclose what those circumstances were or whether Rives’ forgery charge has anything to do with the past theft charges against Williams.

He also declined to comment on whether any more recent charges have been brought against Williams, saying he did not want to jeopardize deputies’ investigation of Rives and that more information would be available later.

Amerson confirmed that Anniston Funeral Services was still open and providing business to its clients, in spite of the slew of criminal and civil charges against its employees.

He said it’s up to the Alabama Board of Funeral Services, which oversees funeral home operations across the state, to make decisions about the business’ license.

Rives was free on a $10,000 bond and will go to court on her charge Jan. 27.


Missouri St. Charles County Council Alters Funeral Protest Law

The St. Charles County Council altered a new ordinance restricting funeral protests, but not enough to stop the American Civil Liberties Union from proceeding with a federal lawsuit to block the law.

On Monday, the council voted unanimously to repeal the law it passed Nov. 29 and enact a revised version that added language excluding visitations and removed language characterizing protests as "disruptions."

Councilman Joe Brazil, R-District 2, who sponsored the bill, said the repeal did not mean the county was backing down. As a procedural matter, it had to repeal the old version before enacting the new one.

"We felt it necessary to strengthen the ordinance by clarifying it, but the meaning is the same — you cannot protest at a funeral or burial," Brazil said.

The ACLU of Eastern Missouri on Dec. 16 served subpoenas to Brazil and County Executive Steve Ehlmann, Brazil said. Both officials appeared in federal court the next morning, he said.

The ACLU's arguments had nothing to do with the content of the ordinance, Brazil said. But based on information in the ACLU's presentation, county officials decided it was necessary to make it clear that the ordinance did not apply to wakes or visitations, Brazil said.

County Counselor Joann Leykam said the law was never intended to apply to visitations.

The ordinance prohibits picketing funerals, requiring protestors to stay at least 300 feet away from the cemetery, mortuary or place of worship during the memorial services and burial or cremation.

The law does not apply to funeral processions on public streets. The new language specifies that the prohibition also does not apply to wakes, visitations or vigils.

The original law described picketing as protest activities that "target or disrupt" a funeral. The new law removes the word "disrupt."

Councilman Paul Wynn, R-District 4, said the law is appropriately narrow and still allows for free speech.

"There is freedom to protest leading up to the funeral, after the funeral, during the procession," Wynn said. "Protestors can stand outside the wake. They have the opportunity to have their message heard."

The ACLU filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Missouri, claiming the ordinance violated First Amendment freedom of speech and assembly rights, and the Missouri Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The ACLU is representing members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. Church members have picketed at soldiers' funerals because they claim their deaths are ordained by God as punishment for the nation's tolerance of gays.

Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said the County Council's changes were an attempt to make the law more narrow, but it was still not narrow enough.

"We are pleased they recognized there were constitutional problems with the law and they amended it to address a couple of them," Rothert said. "But it is still a content-based law. It only restricts speech based on the message, based on the viewpoint of the speaker. It does not restrict all speech within the area."

Rothert said the law applied only to picketing that targeted the funeral.

"Someone could have a raucous protest about something other than the funeral and that would be perfectly legal," he said. "But someone could stand there silently with a sign targeting the funeral, and that would be illegal. So it is still criminalizing content, based on what the speech is about. The First Amendment does not allow that."

Rothert said the ACLU does not agree with its client's views on gays, but it was defending the church members' right to protest.

"We believe in protecting the First Amendment, and that includes unpopular and distasteful speech," he said.

Another court appearance was scheduled for Dec. 22, but that was delayed due to the changed ordinance. Rothert said the changes pushed the effective date of the ordinance from Jan. 3 to early February, so the ACLU has to file an amended complaint and amended motion for preliminary injunction. A hearing is set for Jan. 18 on the preliminary injunction, he said.

Earlier this year, the St. Peters Board of Aldermen banned picketing during funeral processions, including protests along public streets. When threatened with action by the ACLU, St. Peters aldermen repealed the law. A similar Missouri law was found unconstitutional.

"I read in the paper about how the ACLU sent a letter to St. Peters asking them to repeal their ordinance," Brazil said. "I thought, what a crock that was. I called Steve Ehlmann and said I wanted to do something for St. Charles County residents. He agreed."

Brazil said the county ordinance was based on a Nebraska law that has stood up to a federal court challenge.

Wynn said the county was using its in-house legal staff to fight the ACLU, so it should not face the escalating legal costs that might deter a city that had to hire special attorneys.


1,000 Attend Funeral of Sacramento Woman Killed Saving Her Son

About 1,000 people yesterday attended the funeral of Monique Roxanne Nelson (left with son Jayden), who died shielding her young son from stray bullets in a Dec. 14 shootout outside a south Sacramento barbershop.

Elected and school officials, members of the local Chamber of Commerce and co-workers from the Sacramento International Airport, where Nelson worked at her family's bookstore, were among those who grieved alongside her family, relatives and friends.

Her 2-year-old son, Jayden Butler-Nelson, was not at the services held at St Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Oak Park.

Deborah Nelson, Monique's mother, described her daughter as her "angel with that infectious smile" and a "caregiver extraordinaire." She talked about how Monique, who worked for several years as a medical assistant, took care of her when she became very ill this year.

"She was the mother and I was the child," Deborah Nelson said.

Richard Nelson, Monique's brother, recalled happy childhood memories that reflected his sister's mischievous and dare-devil nature.

On one occasion, he jumped into the swimming pool in his Sunday suit to pull her out of the water. On another occasion, she had her head stuck between the bars of an iron gate and their mother and the postman, who happened to be there, had to rescue her by applying butter and Vaseline cream over her head and ears, he said.

Richard Nelson also said his sister was very spiritual. While helping to clear out her apartment after her death, he found she had a series of books on religion and a letter she wrote saying she wanted her favorite gospel music, "Safe in His Arms," played at her funeral. It was.

Authorities said Ms. Nelson was strapping Jayden into his car seat in a parking lot outside the Fly Cuts & Styles barbershop that Tuesday afternoon when gunmen started firing inside the shop.

The vicious exchange spilled outside, where Ms. Nelson had parked her vehicle. Sacramento County sheriff's deputies arrived to find Ms. Nelson's lifeless body draped over her son, who was not harmed.


Feds Sue Texas Funeral Home

The U.S. Department of Labor has accused a San Antonio funeral home of violating labor laws by failing to pay minimum wages and overtime compensation to some employees.

Castillo Mission Funeral Home Inc. and its president and owner, Zeferina Castillo, were named in a civil lawsuit brought by the agency on behalf of at least 16 funeral home employees. The funeral home is at 520 N. General McMullen.

The suit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Antonio.

Myra Castillo, a funeral home official also named in the complaint, said its lawyers were reviewing the lawsuit. She had no additional comment.

The funeral home also is accused of failing to keep records reflecting the hours worked each day by many of its employees. The suit seeks unpaid minimum wages and overtime compensation that may be owed to employees.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Obesity Creates Problems for Funeral Directors and Cemeteries

The obesity epidemic is forcing New Zealand funeral directors to introduce larger caskets and look for larger plots for burials.

Big people are creating bigger problems for funeral directors and cemeteries.

South Auckland's Manukau Memorial Gardens is now planning to open an area with larger plots, in response to the obesity epidemic.

Former All Black and now funeral director, Va'aiga Tuigamala, says the problem is widespread. He told Newstalk ZB suppliers are having to change their casket sizings, to meet demand, "an extra large or oversize casket is now considered a medium to small casket", he said. While bigger caskets and plots are also putting cost pressures on families planning funerals.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Widow Gets Parking Ticket at Husbands Funeral

City Hall bosses have apologized after an over-zealous traffic warden slapped a parking ticket on the car of a grieving woman in Haworth West Yorkshire.

As Gail Steward prepared for the funeral of her husband, David Tetlow, on Friday, at Haworth Parish Church, her car — parked in the village’s Main Street — was ticketed.

The fine was given despite a plea by her and a friend, pub landlord Nick Hindle. Mrs Steward, who runs the business Haworth Organic Products, in Main Street, said: “I ran down the street crying — I was so upset. It was bad enough facing the funeral of my husband without getting a ticket.”

Later, after contact with Bradford Council, the ticket was rescinded, she added. Her car had been left partially across a double yellow line.

Mr Hindle, landlord of The Fleece, in Main Street, said he pleaded with the warden not to give the ticket.

“I saw him at the car and realized he was preparing to give a ticket.

“I rushed out and explained to him that it was the owner’s funeral that day and I would call for her. By the time I got back he had put the ticket on. I was infuriated at the insensitivity.

“I took hold of the ticket and threw it on the floor. We exchanged a few heated words — I think the whole thing was unacceptable,” he said.

Paul Ratcliffe, Bradford Council’s parking services manager, said: “We received a complaint from a member of the public about illegal parking in Haworth Main Street.

“We would like to apologize to the bereaved car owner for any distress caused and given the circumstances our civil enforcement officer asked for permission to cancel the ticket and this was done at the scene.”


Friday, December 10, 2010

Funeral Industry Crackdown in Australia

The Australian Funeral Directors Association says there may have to be a regulatory body created if the practices employed by one Kimberley operator in Western Australia become widespread.

Wyndham-based funeral director Imelda Agars has been stripped of both her State Government contracts after further evidence emerged of her transporting bodies for thousands of kilometres in hire cars and trailers.

Ms Agars has also been declared bankrupt, owing $826,000 to dozens of creditors across WA.

Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley CEO Gary Gaffney says the case shows there needs to be tighter regulation of the industry.

"There needs to be a better code of practice and it needs to be enforced with rogue operators," he said.

"I know it's difficult in remote areas like the Kimberley because of the distances they have to travel but cases of people being transported in the back of trailers ... it's just not what you'd expect for your loved one."

The shire wants to know why it took almost a year of complaints from bereaved families for the coroner's office to terminate the contract.

Mr Gaffney says families were traumatised by the way their loved ones' remains were treated.

"They're appalled that there was no action by Government departments that had contracts with her. They weren't being listened to," he said.

The secretary of the Australian Funeral Directors Association, Vince Calleja, says almost all operators in WA comply with the industry's voluntary code of conduct without a problem.

"Fortunately it's not been something that's happening on a regular basis. However, if more of this behaviour starts popping up then yes, I believe there may have to be some kind of regulatory body," he said.

The coroner's office says it decided to review Ms Agars' conduct in February but would not comment on why it took seven months to act.


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vandals Desecrate Dad's Grave

A grieving family has been left devastated after flowers left on their father's grave were destroyed less than 24 hours after his funeral.
Mary White, along with family and friends, buried her late father Thomas Lydon, of Jarrow, on Monday afternoon at Jarrow Cemetery, and left floral tributes at his graveside.

But when the 63-year-old, of Wilton Gardens, Boldon Colliery, returned to the cemetery on Tuesday morning, she found the heads from the lettered tribute to her father had been pulled off and stomped onto the ground.

Mrs White and four of her five sisters – Anne Mirfin, 61, Sheila Lydon, 58, Christine Lydon-Carlile, 47, and Pauline Lydon, 45 – had paid for the flowers and had each bought their own bouquets.

She said: "I was absolutely devastated. I was in a state in tears at the grave.

"I rang my youngest sister to tell her and it broke my heart. I'm mortified – how could anyone do that?

"He was our dad and we loved him. The flowers were a symbol for him to show how much we cared.

"How low can people get by desecrating a grave? I can't believe it, and it wasn't an accident – it was a deliberate act."

Mr Lydon died on November 28 from lung cancer, aged 87. The cancer was diagnosed in July this year, but he quickly deteriorated in the following months despite a brave battle against the disease and undergoing 12 sessions of radiotherapy.

Mrs White added: "He showed great strength and dignity – he didn't complain."

The family have now contacted police as they have an idea who could have targeted the graveside.

A Northumbria Police spokesman confirmed they were investigating the matter and said: "This is a particularly reprehensible crime which has caused distress to the family.

"I'd urge any witnesses or anyone with information to contact us."

Family upset at Removal of Patient's Organs in Autopsy

It was at the funeral home, when she embraced her dead daughter, that Maria Guadalupe Soto noticed the difference.

"She was too light," Soto recalled.

It wasn't the imagination of a grieving mother. Medical records show that Sonia Soto's body weighed 157 pounds at the start of a hospital autopsy and only 100 pounds when it reached the funeral parlor.

The 27-year-old's heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen and brain had been removed and disposed of, leaving her parents distraught and angry. The Sotos are seeking to have Parkland Memorial Hospital change what they say is an unclear autopsy consent form.

Sonia Soto's father, Ruben, signed the form in the hours after her death, but the Sotos said Parkland officials never told them their daughter's major organs would be removed and eventually cremated.

Their removal, her parents said, violated a promise they made to their daughter.

"She wanted to be buried complete," Maria Soto said.

The Sotos said the consent form was unclear because it did not offer an accurate description of the procedure, including any reference to possible organ removal and disposal.

Parkland later apologized for the "miscommunication."

"We regret there was miscommunication regarding our procedures for organ removal and retention during autopsy," Jennifer Bentley, Parkland's associate director of patient safety and risk, wrote in an Oct. 29 letter to the Sotos.

"We understand this was not clearly communicated to you at the time the autopsy consent form was signed and sincerely apologize for that."

The hospital's one-page form signed by Ruben Soto "authorizes the preservation and study of any tissues which may be removed."

But it makes no mention of possible organ removal, the family's right to get the organs back or how a loved one's body parts would be disposed of.

The College of American Pathologists recommends using a consent form that lays out all those possibilities.

Pathologists are the doctors who perform autopsies in an effort to determine a patient's cause of death.

"The body is treated with dignity and respect, and the wishes of the family are maintained at all times," the pathologist association noted on its website.

A sample consent form on the site states that a family member has the right to limit the extent of an autopsy – including requiring organ and tissue samples to be returned before the funeral.

But Parkland would not say Wednesday whether it will change the consent form to give families a better understanding of what an autopsy involves.

Instead, the Dallas County public hospital released this statement:

"Autopsies are useful to determine the cause of death, document existing conditions, and to provide information to physicians that may contribute to the care of living patients.

"At autopsy, the body is examined, the organs are removed, and samples of the organs are taken for microscopic examination. The organs are saved for approximately 1 month after completion of the autopsy procedure in case further examination is necessary."

Sonia Soto was hospitalized at Parkland during three episodes of unexplained brain hemorrhaging between September 2009 and her death on March 10.

At first, the Sotos were happy to have Parkland taking care of their daughter. Previously, she was sent home from another Dallas hospital, where doctors insisted she only had the flu.

During the third bout of bleeding, Soto appeared to be recovering and her family was feeling hopeful – but then an infection struck and she died.

Immediately, the Parkland doctors began asking for permission to do an autopsy.

Parkland noted in its Wednesday statement that "the procedure is explained to the patient's next of kin by their physician. If they choose to proceed, an autopsy consent form is signed."

Since the Sotos do not speak English, a Spanish translator assisted in the discussion with their daughter's neurologist, Dr. Cyrus K. Dastur, and in signing the consent form.

Afterward, the Sotos were so upset about the organ removal that they contacted Dallas lawyer Domingo Garcia. He arranged for them to meet with the Parkland doctors and other officials involved in their daughter's care.

"We accuse Parkland of unauthorized removal of organs and unauthorized cremation of organs," Garcia said.

"The family wants an apology for the way they were treated and the way their daughter was treated."

At the Oct. 25 meeting at Parkland, the Sotos were informed that their daughter's organs had been cremated after the autopsy, her mother said. The couple was offered ashes purported to be from their daughter's remains. But Maria Soto rejected the offer because there was no way to tell if the ashes had come from her daughter or someone else.

Later, the family received a sworn statement, dated Oct. 28, from two Parkland doctors, Tasha Z. Greenberg, medical director of autopsy service, and Kyle H. Molberg, chief of pathology.

The doctors itemized what had happened to Soto's organs: Most of the major organs were "disposed of" about a month after the autopsy, the statement said. Smaller organ samples were "discarded" on Aug. 13, as was her brain on Sept. 17.

However, the notarized statement did not describe the means of disposal other than to say it followed the hospital's "procedural guidelines."

Dissatisfied, the Sotos decided to contact the news media last month.

In the end, Sonia Soto's autopsy did not determine the underlying cause for her bleeding. The exam looked for obvious medical explanations as well as possible genetic reasons to explain the episodes.

Her doctors thought she might have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a rare condition in which blood vessels and organs are prone to tearing or rupture. Tests showed she didn't.

Instead, Sonia Soto's final autopsy report indicated that she died as the result of an E. coli infection that caused her to develop a fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

Such bacterial infections can be transmitted by unwashed hands or contaminated food. But no one can say how she got it. It was detected 10 days into Soto's final Parkland stay. She died four days later.

At the time of her death, Sonia Soto had lived in Dallas for only a year. Her father, a construction worker here for more than 20 years, had successfully petitioned the U.S. government to allow his wife and three children to come to Dallas from Mexico.

Sonia Soto was the eldest, arriving with her brother, Juan, now 24, and a sister, Maria, now 10.

"They wanted to be here legally," said Sara Soto, a cousin who lives in Dallas. "They wanted to have a life together again. And then Sonia got sick and everything changed."


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards Dead at 61

Elizabeth Edwards, who played a pivotal role in her husband's political career and captured the public's sympathy with her lengthy battle with breast cancer and her estrangement from John Edwards over his highly publicized affair, died Tuesday, Fox News has confirmed. She was 61.

A family friend told the Associated Press that Edwards died in North Carolina Tuesday at 10:15 a.m. Edwards stopped receiving treatment this month when doctors told her it would be unproductive.

She thanked all of her supporters in her final Facebook page post this month.

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.

"It isn't possible to put into words the lover and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say; you know."

Her breast cancer was diagnosed during her husband's vice presidential campaign in 2004. At the start of her husband's presidential campaign in March 2007, she announced that she had Stage 4 – terminal – cancer that had spread from her breast to her bones after a period on the mend. But she pledged to continue campaigning on behalf of her husband.

John Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, was by her side with other family members at the Chapel Hill home despite their public split after 30 years of marriage. John Edwards had an affair and fathered a child with a woman whom he hired to be his videographer on his 2008 presidential campaign.

Elizabeth Edwards went on to publish a memoir and do a speaking tour that included a retelling of his confession to her. She also focused on reforming the country's system of providing health care toward a single-payer process designed to serve all.

Edwards often wondered aloud about the plight of those who faced the same kind of physical struggle, but without her personal wealth.

Elizabeth Edwards stirred controversy with her decision to continue campaigning for her husband's 2008 presidential bid after doctors told her that her cancer had spread. But Edwards was more than a political spouse. She was chief adviser and strategist to her husband's campaigns.

The couple were law school sweethearts who married just days after they took the bar exam together in the summer of 1977.

John Edwards went on to earn millions as a trial lawyer but the pair got off to a modest start. He had to borrow money from her parents for a one-night honeymoon. She always wore her $11 wedding ring. For years they spent their anniversaries going to Wendy's, just as they did on their first one.

Elizabeth Edwards is survived by her three children. Her son, Wade, died at age 16 in a car accident in 1996.


Don Meredith Dead at 72

Don Meredith was the happiest, most fun-loving guy wherever he went, whether crooning country tunes in the huddle as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys or jawing with Howard Cosell in the broadcast booth as analyst on the groundbreaking "Monday Night Football."

His irreverent personality made him one of the most beloved figures in sports and entertainment in the 1970s and 1980s, helping turn the Cowboys and "Monday Night Football" into national sensations.

"Dandy Don" died Sunday after suffering a brain hemorrhage and lapsing into a coma in Santa Fe, N.M., where he lived out of the limelight with his wife, Susan, for the last 25 years. He was 72.

A folksy foil to Cosell's tell-it-like-it-is pomposity, Meredith was at his best with unscripted one-liners — often aimed at his broadcast partners. His trademark, though, came when one team had the game locked up. Meredith would warble, "Turn out the lights, the party's over" — from a song by his pal Willie Nelson.

Meredith played for the Cowboys from 1960-68, taking them from winless expansion team to the brink of a championship. He was only 31 when he retired before training camp in 1969, and a year later wound up alongside Cosell in the broadcast booth for the oddity of a prime-time, weeknight NFL game.

The league pitched the idea to ABC, the lowest-rated network, after CBS and NBC tried occasional games on Monday nights and didn't think it would click. It became a hit largely because of how much viewers enjoyed the contrast of Meredith's Texas flair and Cosell's East Coast braggadocio.

Friends in real life, they took opposite stances to liven up broadcasts with their bickering. Meredith usually took the majority opinion, Cosell the minority. Cosell was playing a role, while Meredith was just being himself.

"Watching him on TV was like being in the huddle with Don again," former teammate Dan Reeves said. "He just made the game fun."

Blowouts were their playground. Folks kept watching because of them.

In a 1970 game from Dallas, the Cowboys were headed to a 38-0 loss to St. Louis when fans chanted, "We Want Meredith!" Said Meredith, "No way you're getting me down there."

The Houston Oilers were on their way to a 34-0 loss to the Oakland Raiders in 1972 when a camera zoomed in on a disgruntled fan at the Astrodome. He made a one-finger salute and Meredith quipped, "He thinks they're No. 1."

Meredith was the life of the party in the "Monday Night" booth from 1970 through 1984, except for a three-year stint playing a detective on NBC's "Police Story." He spent 11 of those years teamed with another former star player, Frank Gifford, a friend before they became broadcast partners.

"To say that Don was an instant success would be a gross understatement," Gifford said in a statement. "For millions of football fans, he would always be the one who topped Howard Cosell with one-liners or a simple 'Come on, Howard.'"

Current "Monday Night" announcer Jon Gruden spoke for many who grew up during Meredith's time in the booth by recalling how he would "sneak downstairs and watch Don and 'Monday Night Football' when I was supposed to be asleep."

Meredith also appeared in more than a dozen made-for-TV movies, specials or dramas. He once filled in for Johnny Carson on the "Tonight Show," and was a popular pitchman for Lipton tea.

During his playing days, Meredith recorded his own country music single. Former teammate Walt Garrison pulled it out Monday and proudly read the names of the songs: "Travelin' Man" on one side, "Them That Ain't Got It Can't Lose" on the other.

He was the inspiration for the carousing quarterback in the book and movie "North Dallas Forty," written by Pete Gent, a former Cowboys teammate and good friend.

"He loved life, he loved people, God bless him," Garrison said. "When he walked into a room, he took it over. ... You couldn't be sad around Joe Don very long. When you left, you'd come away laughing."

Meredith left "Monday Night Football" a year after Cosell and soon retired from the spotlight altogether. He just didn't want to be famous any more. His absence meant younger generations have only heard "Dandy Don" stories — including current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, who wore Meredith's No. 17 when he was a Dallas quarterback.

"It was a coincidence, but I always made the connection," Garrett said.

Joseph Donald Meredith was born April 10, 1938, and grew up in the Northeast Texas town of Mount Vernon.

He was a natural athlete. He scored a record 52 points in a high school basketball tournament. At Southern Methodist University, he was All-America quarterback in 1958 and 1959. His popularity in Dallas was part of why the Cowboys signed him to a five-year personal services contract before formally getting an NFL franchise.

Meredith's second career in entertainment obscures what a great quarterback he was, taking a team from 0-11-1 in 1960 to within minutes of reaching each of the first two Super Bowls.

"You look at all the expansion quarterbacks and most of them have been forgotten about, but he was able to take us to the championship game," said Reeves, an NFL head coach for 23 seasons. "I've been around some outstanding quarterbacks: (Roger) Staubach, (Craig) Morton, (John) Elway, Phil Simms. All those guys had some of the same traits as Don, but you'd never get all the traits Don had in one package."

He took his lumps until surrounded by better players.

"Broken noses and collarbones and ribs, everything you can think of, Don had it," said Lee Roy Jordan, his roommate for many years.

Meredith's free spirit never meshed with coach Tom Landry, which led to a love-hate relationship with fans. But the coach and quarterback realized they needed each other.

The turning point in their relationship came midway through 1965, when Landry cried in front of the team after a loss that dropped them to 2-5. He recommitted to Meredith and the Cowboys finished 7-7, their first non-losing season.

They went to the Playoff Bowl, a meaningless matchup of runners-up, then advanced to the NFL championship game the next two seasons.

Dallas narrowly lost to Green Bay both times. Meredith threw a late interception in the first one. The second was the "Ice Bowl," one of the most memorable games in NFL history, won by the Packers on a quarterback sneak in the closing seconds.

Meredith showed up for the 1966 title game with his face covered in stitches. He told everyone he'd been shopping with his wife, got tripped and went through a plate-glass window. He couldn't play.

"You could've heard a pin drop," Reeves said. "Then coach Landry walked in and he peeled it off. It looked so real! He had a makeup artist put it on. We all wanted to choke him to death for scaring us like that. But we all just cracked up."

Dallas lost in the first round of the playoffs in 1968, with Meredith throwing three interceptions and getting replaced by Morton. It turned out to be his last game.

Susan Meredith said she and her daughter were at Meredith's side when he died. A private graveside service was planned.


Funeral Home Shuts Down

Five months after an Ohio funeral home was forced to shut down, the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has announced meetings to help 150 people who prepaid for their funeral arrangements there.

State inspectors visited the Routson Funeral Chapel in Findlay back in June. Gregory Routson's license was, and remains suspended after a number of violations were found including unprofessional embalming and inappropriate condition of a corpse.

“I think it's important for anyone to realize that there are probably less than stellar people in every profession,” says Randy Schoedinger, CEO of Schoedinger Funeral Services. However, he likes to think they're among the best. For more than 150 years, Schoedinger Funeral Services has been helping central Ohioans prepare for the inevitable. While he says it's rare, he isn't surprised about the debacle in Findlay that's left the Routson Funeral Chapel closed and 150 people scrambling to re-make their funeral arrangements.

“We don't have any indication the money is not properly trusted or properly placed with the insurance,” said Jennifer Baugess with the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. She says that’s good; meaning those contracts will be able to be transferred to other area funeral homes.

However, that wasn't the case nearly four years ago. In 2007, 128 people lost their money and pre-need arrangements after the funeral director at Mader-Peters Funeral Home in Circleville misappropriated more than $700,000 over a ten year period.

Baugess says one of the most important things you can do when making arrangements is to ask plenty of questions. “Where's my money going? In Ohio, there are currently two choices; you give your money to the funeral director he either has to put it into a trust or he can purchase an insurance policy in your name,” said Baugess.

"Make sure you have a signed contract that is either with an insurance company or going into a trust, and you keep records of all those things,” said Schoedinger.

Baugess says these situations are very unique and hopes this does not turn people away from making pre-need plans.

To avoid being caught in a situation like the one in Findlay, Schoedinger says look for two things in a funeral home; reputation and trust.

Five months after an Ohio funeral home was forced to shut down, the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has announced meetings to help 150 people who prepaid for their funeral arrangements there.

State inspectors visited the Routson Funeral Chapel in Findlay back in June. Gregory Routson's license was, and remains suspended after a number of violations were found including unprofessional embalming and inappropriate condition of a corpse.

“I think it's important for anyone to realize that there are probably less than stellar people in every profession,” says Randy Schoedinger, CEO of Schoedinger Funeral Services. However, he likes to think they're among the best. For more than 150 years, Schoedinger Funeral Services has been helping central Ohioans prepare for the inevitable. While he says it's rare, he isn't surprised about the debacle in Findlay that's left the Routson Funeral Chapel closed and 150 people scrambling to re-make their funeral arrangements.

“We don't have any indication the money is not properly trusted or properly placed with the insurance,” said Jennifer Baugess with the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. She says that’s good; meaning those contracts will be able to be transferred to other area funeral homes.

However, that wasn't the case nearly four years ago. In 2007, 128 people lost their money and pre-need arrangements after the funeral director at Mader-Peters Funeral Home in Circleville misappropriated more than $700,000 over a ten year period.

Baugess says one of the most important things you can do when making arrangements is to ask plenty of questions. “Where's my money going? In Ohio, there are currently two choices; you give your money to the funeral director he either has to put it into a trust or he can purchase an insurance policy in your name,” said Baugess.

"Make sure you have a signed contract that is either with an insurance company or going into a trust, and you keep records of all those things,” said Schoedinger.

Baugess says these situations are very unique and hopes this does not turn people away from making pre-need plans.

To avoid being caught in a situation like the one in Findlay, Schoedinger says look for two things in a funeral home; reputation and trust.


Man Charged With Stealing Hearse

A Londonderry man has been charged with stealing a hearse from outside a funeral parlour earlier this year.

Jonathan James Ayton, from Bond's Hill, is also accused of other offences including damaging funeral wreaths and flowers, dangerous driving, and damaging an electronic tag.

He is also charged with possession of a military uniform and boots as well as 750 euro and a laptop computer which were stolen in the Republic of Ireland.

He was remanded in custody.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

407 Unclaimed Cremated Remains Sit and Wait in Florida

Behind a bolted door, in the back of an old mortuary, is a purgatory on earth. Ashes of the dead sit in shoebox-sized containers on dusty shelves, cremated at the behest of loved ones who never retrieved them.

So now, they are kept inside a cooled 10-by-10 room. Current occupancy is 407.

They are sons and daughters of the poor, the rich and the middle-class. They lived through the Great Depression and Hurricane Andrew and 9/11, and run the gamut of South Florida's many cultures. They led robust lives before they were burned, then neglected.

Funeral home owner Donald Van Orsdel holds out hope that someone might want them one day, so he keeps them in his central office just outside Miami's Design Destrict in a room rarely unlocked to the public. There are hundreds of histories inside now, but Van Orsdel believes the future will bring many more.


By 2025, nearly seven of every 10 bodies in the state will be cremated -- one of the highest rates in the country. The rest of the nation is following the trend. Cremation is set to grow another 64 percent by that time, becoming the nation's predominant way of disposing of the deceased.

Local funeral directors say a handful of families leave their kin behind each year. When that happens, funeral home owners are left with a pile of calcium and a quandary, guided by morality and legality: What to do with the ashes?

Van Orsdel's solution, storing them for decades, isn't typical, but it feels right to him.  After all, it's what his grandfather would have done.

Van Orsdel's South Florida roots are deep. He's a third-generation funeral home director and is training his daughter to be the fourth person at the helm of Van Orsdel's Funeral Chapels, one of the few locally owned funeral homes left in the county.


In 1924, Henry Van Orsdel and Clifford Van Orsdel began preparing funerals in Miami-Dade when the area was mostly agricultural and mostly Anglo. When it came to records, Henry -- Donald's grandfather -- made a vow to never throw away a single file.

Families deal with death in different ways, he'd say. Some organize elaborate ceremonies. Others are too busy or too pained, and just want to move on.

Coping changes over time, Van Orsdel's grandfather used to say. Sometimes, kin might return for a copy of the death certificate they threw away. Or to be reminded of where exactly they placed the grave. Or to retrieve remains they forgot to pick up.

When the Van Orsdels started, cremation was taboo -- many considered it a harsh treatment of the body created in God's image.

The tide started to change in the '60s, Van Orsdel said, after the Vatican declared that cremation was a suitable alternative to burial. By 1976, the Van Orsdels needed to purchase a crematory of their own.

Cremations, at the time, were usually requested by the wealthy. That was especially true in coastal states, such as Florida and California, where families wished to scatter ashes at sea.

Even then, the grandfather thought that ``one day, cremation was going to be big,'' Van Orsdel said.


At 58, Van Orsdel has seen the practice spread from the wealthy to everyone else. When the economy started to sag, the gradually increasing preference for cremation started to spike.

A cremation costs hundreds of dollars, on average, according to John Ross, president for the Cremation Association of North America. Burials are much more expensive: Between selecting coffins and finding grave sites, markers and tombstones, the entire tab can run well into the thousands.

In the past nine years, a Herald analysis of death statistics found, the number of cremations in the country has tripled. The largest jumps have been seen in the South -- Tennessee saw a 700 percent increase, for example -- and in the land-locked Great Plains.

``There are a couple of reasons,'' said Jim Ford of the Fort Lauderdale-based Neptune Society, whose national cremation business has seen double-digit increases over the past three years. ``There's price sensitivity, and there's also the transient nature of our society. People don't dig their roots as deep as they used to.''

Van Orsdel bought a new computer-operated cremation machine this year to deal with the increased demand. It burns at up to 2,000 degrees, reducing the body to eight to 12 pounds of powdery calcium.

Families typically show up before the body is burned to pay their last respects. The remains are then handed to the family in a container of their choice -- which include urns, clocks, lockets, cuff links, bird feeders, ceramic rose stems and environmentally friendly caskets that are biodegradable.

Sometimes, they ask for a pacemaker or grandma's prosthetic. One person asked for cremation workers to retrieve a relative's gold teeth.


At Van Orsdel, the oldest remains are in an urn that dates back to 1939, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Van Orsdel holds out hopes that someone might pick up the urn one day.

He isn't legally obligated to keep the remains. He's not allowed to hold them for ransom if a family can't pay for the ashes, nor does he charge for storage. State law allows a funeral home to discard human remains -- without ceremony -- after four months.

Many local funeral home directors do just that after failed attempts to contact the family. Ford, of the Neptune Society, said his organization sends certified notices before scattering the remains at sea.

Discarding human remains just makes Van Orsdel uncomfortable. His grandfather taught him that such ceremonies are sacred. He doesn't release the names or genders of the cremated remains to protect their privacy.

``I'd rather not have a family walk in and tell them we buried them at sea,'' Van Orsdel said.

``There was a family that came to pick up the cremains after 20 years, and I was so glad to help.''

He's vowed to keep his ashes until the area runs out of room. There are 407 now, and he thinks this purgatory can hold hundreds more.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Funeral Director Charged with Desecrating Human Remains

A suburban funeral director in Illinois concocted an elaborate plan to illegally hide an error that sent two sets of cremated human remains to the wrong families, even going so far as to secretly dig up a buried urn of ashes.

Marcee Dane, 32, also tried to cover the mix-up by obtaining the cremated remains of a third person, then telling a grieving family the ashes actually were from their deceased relative, Lake County prosecutors said Thursday.

Dane was sentenced to 30 days in jail Thursday after pleading guilty to felony charges of desecrating human remains. She also was ordered to serve 150 days of home confinement, spend 30 months on probation and was fined $10,000.

As part of her plea deal, Dane also is barred from ever working again in the funeral industry, authorities said.

The mix-up began in May 2010 when Burnett-Dane Funeral Home in Libertyville inadvertently switched the cremated remains of two unrelated people. Dane took unlawful steps to hide the error, authorities said.

When one family became suspicious that the ashes they were given weren't from their deceased relative, Dane obtained the cremated remains of an unidentified person from a suburban crematory, prosecutors said. Dane later mailed those ashes to the grieving family, assuring them they were the remains from their deceased family member, authorities said.

When Dane learned investigators were probing the mix-up, she traveled to a Des Plaines cemetery and under the guise of planting flowers at a gravesite, secretly dug up the urn belonging one of the relatives of the families involved, prosecutor Christen Bishop said.

She then removed an identification tag on the urn in an attempt to obscure whose remains were buried at the site, Bishop said.


New Funeral Product Helps KISS Fans Go Out in Style

They might become must-have items for some KISS aficionados and, surprisingly, have more uses than memorializing the deceased.

They are officially licensed caskets, cremation urns, bronze memorials, memorial prayer cards and candles, and pet cremation urns — all emblazoned with the iconic rock band's images.

Featured prominently of course, is lead singer Gene Simmons.

In fact, the pet cremation urns were Simmons' idea, said Nick Popravsky, vice president of sales and distribution for Farmington Hills-based Eternal Image Inc.

The public company already designs, manufactures and markets officially licensed memorial products for Star Trek fans, the Vatican, Major League Baseball, and colleges and universities.

KISS will be the company's first rock band, Popravsky said.

Eternal Image signed a private label agreement with the band known for its copious makeup, distinctive outfits and sometimes frightening stage antics.

The relationship between the band and Eternal Image evolved this year through talks with the band's representatives and Simmons.

"We fleshed out the potential and it made more sense as it progressed," Popravsky said.

Some of the memorial items will be manufactured in Eternal Image's Canton Township facility.

Memorial products will be sold through Eternal Image's normal channels of funeral homes and industry distributors and also on, which Popravsky said gets about one million hits a month.

"KISS fans are very loyal," he said.

He added that the KISS caskets will have a variety of uses.

"I believe a lot of people will buy them and use them for ice chests for picnics."


Lee Harvey Oswald's Coffin Up For Sale

It's one of the most ghoulish — and overlooked — American artifacts of the 20th century: A modest wooden coffin stashed in a storage room of the Baumgardner Funeral Home in Fort Worth, Texas.

Few people had any idea that the rotting wooden box, with its rust-coated metal ornamentation, held for nearly 18 years the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot President John F. Kennedy to death in 1963.

Occasionally someone would learn its macabre history and at first be put off by it, said funeral home owner Allen Baumgardner.

"Then they become curious and want to know everything about it," he added. "They forget about all the gory stuff because it's history."

Now history is on the auction block, Baumgardner having consigned the coffin to Nate D. Sanders Auctions of Santa Monica. Bidding opened Tuesday at $1,000, and auction manager Laura Yntema expects it could go as high as $100,000 by the time the online and phone auction closes Dec. 16.

Baumgardner was 21 and working for the Miller Funeral Home when Oswald himself was killed just two days after he shot Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963.

By the time Oswald's coffin was dug up in 1981, as part of an effort to put to rest conspiracy theories that he wasn't buried in it, Baumgardner had bought the mortuary and changed its name.

He was surprised to learn Oswald's burial vault had cracked over the years and water had leaked in, damaging the coffin and the body. Still, authorities identified Oswald through dental records and reburied him in Fort Worth's Rose Hill Memorial Burial Park.

Before the burial, Baumgardner traded the Oswald family a brand new coffin in exchange for the old one.

"We placed Lee in a new casket, and I just brought that one back to the funeral home," he said Wednesday. "I've had it all these years."

He also kept the original embalming equipment and paperwork.

"I just think it's time to do something with all that stuff," the soft-spoken funeral director said. "I just felt like I'm 68 years old, I think this would be a good time to go ahead and see if anybody is interested in it."

An early version of Oswald's death certificate, in which the cause of death was listed as being shot by Jack Ruby (identified by his real name, Jack Rubenstein), was being auctioned separately. Yntema said it could fetch as much as $20,000.

The certificate had to be changed because Ruby hadn't yet been convicted of killing Oswald at a Dallas police station.

The Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, which is dedicated to the Kennedy assassination, has no interest in bidding on the coffin, said curator Gary Mack, adding its exhibits lean heavily toward photographs and videos.

The museum is located on the sixth floor of Dallas's old Texas School Book Depository Building, from which Oswald is believed to have opened fire on Kennedy as the president passed by in a convertible.

Baumgardner said he's hoping someone more interested in history than the coffin's macabre appeal will be the one to buy it.

Rachel Day, spokeswoman for the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, declined to comment.

Mack said he expects no shortage of bidders, adding that Kennedy's death and its circumstances continue to fascinate people 47 years later. The Sixth Floor Museum attracts more than 325,000 visitors a year.

"My experience as a curator has been, if people have room and it's a Kennedy item, they will collect it," Mack said.


More Remains Misplaced at Arlington National Cemetery

The Army has opened a criminal investigation after revelations that eight sets of cremated remains were buried under a single headstone labeled "unknown" at Arlington National Cemetery.

The discovery was a result of an investigation of suspicious practices following a series of stories on misplaced graves by WTOP radio this summer, according to Army spokesman Gary Tallman.

It also follows a critical report by the Army's Inspector General that found widespread problems at the cemetery and resulted in the dismissal of the cemetery's superintendent, Jack Metzler and his deputy Thurman Higginbotham.

The Army has identified three of the remains and notified those families. One set of remains cannot be identified, and four others are still being investigated.

Christopher Grey, a spokesman for Army Criminal Investigation Command, said "this is not likely a mistake" and that the situation "demanded an investigation to determine if there's any criminality involved in the burials."

Kaitlin Horst, a spokesman for Arlington National Cemetery released the following statement Thursday:

"In late October, the Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program, Kathryn Condon, became aware of questionable practices that took place at Arlington National Cemetery and requested that the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command open an investigation into allegations involving multiple burials of cremated remains in a single location.

Upon further investigation, eight sets of cremated remains were discovered to be buried in a single gravesite marked with an 'unknown' headstone. Cemetery records reflected there was only one set of cremated remains interred in that location.

At this time, three sets of cremated remains have been identified through the work of Army CID Special Agents and cemetery officials. Officials from Arlington National Cemetery are in the process of notifying the families.

One set of cremated remains was unable to be positively identified and was re-interred in the original grave site marked with an 'unknown' headstone. A forensic anthropologist was brought in to assist in that determination.

CID Special Agents are continuing to work to identify the other sets of cremated remains.

This is an ongoing investigation and all information and evidence concerning improper or illegal burials will be considered by the CID. The leadership of Arlington National Cemetery and the Army take these matters seriously and are fully committed to taking the necessary actions to restore the integrity of Arlington National Cemetery."


Funeral Web Design

Creating a funeral home website design that is simple, intuitive, and interactive will set you apart from the competitor down the street.

Partnering with a professional company that has experience with funeral home websites is key to creating a website design that is sharp in appearance, yet easy for client families to navigate. Using an industry specific company that solely concentrates on the funeral industry can provide a high quality product that has been tested by hundreds of others.

The basic components that are a must in every funeral home website are:

• Obituaries
• Online Video Tributes
• Online Pre-Arrangement Form
• Online Guest Book
• Contact Page
• Resource Page
• Social Media Integration

Enhancing a website with other interactive options such as memorial, visitation, service and cemetery information is also a good idea. The more online information a funeral home can provide to families and friends of the deceased, the better.

Other features some funeral homes are selecting are:
• Single or Album Photo Upload
• Pre-Planning Module
• Obituary Notification System
• Virtual Showroom
• Online Guest Book
• Pre-Planning Information
• Content Management System
• Community Events Calendar
• Map and Directions
• Contact Form

Selecting the most fitting modules for your website will greatly impact the overall design of the funeral homes website; however, it's extremely important to find a total solutions provider. Not only should a funeral home website design company create a great website, but they should also be able to register a domain, set up email, ensure search engine submission and optimization and provide statistical reports.

For a funeral home website design solution that empowers the funeral professional and delivers an interactive experience to the families they serve, contact Frazer Consultants. Their funeral home website designs can help set your funeral home apart from the competitor down the street.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

17-Year Old Jumps Into Girlfriends Funeral Pyre

Sirsa, India - In a shocking incident, a 17-year-old boy allegedly jumped into the funeral pyre of his girlfriend who had committed suicide after her parents refused to accept their relationship.

The incident took place in the Rori village of Sirsa district on Monday. While the girl, Veer Pal Kaur, was a student of Class IX, her boyfriend, Bittu Singh, a native of Malsinghwala village of Punjab, studied in Class XI. The two had been studying in the same school and had been going around for the past couple of years.

On November 26, Veer Pal immolated herself by pouring kerosene on her body after her family scolded her for her relationship with Bittu.

She was rushed to Sirsas civil hospital where she succumbed to burns on Monday evening. Sources informed that Bittu lived with his maternal grandparents.

As he came to know about the incident, he got upset and rushed to the cremation ground where Veers family had performed the rites. Investigations revealed that Bittu had gone missing from the house since Monday evening. His cycle was found from near the cremation ground. In fact, he had gone to the cremation ground after everybody had left the place around 3pm.

He might have jumped at that time, hence nobody came to know about his death until the family found two sets of mortal remains in the ashes of the pyre, sub-inspector Bachan Singh, the investigating officer from Roris police, station said.

The boys family members found his cycle and mobile phone from near the cremation ground, added the police official. Meanwhile, Sirsa SP Satinder Kumar Gupta denied any kind of foul play like honour killing into the incident. Prima facie, it appears to be a case of suicide. We have sent the bodies for post-mortem, Gupta added.


Indiana Woman Charged for Faking Daughters Death

A Richmond woman who faked the death of her daughter last month in order to have a funeral service for the girl has been formally charged with attempted theft.

Charges were filed Nov. 24 by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office against Angela J. Boyd, 38, and a warrant was issued for her arrest on a charge of attempted theft (Class D felony). Her bond has been set at $15,000.

Boyd arranged to have a funeral for her 15-year-old daughter at New Life Ministries Church of the Nazarene. She told Pastor Ron Chappell that the girl had been brutally raped and murdered by her father in Iowa and even made a heart-wrenching speech during the service.

The church took a collection during its Nov. 7 service to give to Boyd, and Boyd brought a collection jar marked in memory of her daughter to the Nov. 9 funeral service.

During the service, Boyd's brother, Brian LeMaster, told the congregation that the girl was still alive in Iowa.

Boyd fled the service without getting any money from the church or the jar. She later came to the Richmond Police Department to speak with detectives investigating the incident.

The range for a Class D felony conviction is six months to three years and a $10,000 fine.

Boyd had filed plea agreements in two separate felony theft cases in Wayne County Superior Court II. As a result of Boyd's latest charge, the state on Tuesday withdrew from the plea agreements in both cases. Boyd now faces trial 9 a.m. March 15, 2011, for both cases.


Thief Steals Personal Effects from Widow of NHL Coach Pat Burns

Nothing beats a good argument to start the blood, stimulate the brain and make the bartender work overtime. But sometimes, there is no other side to take.

Like the person who decided to break into the car of the widow of former NHL coach Pat Burns and steal personal effects and memorabilia. On the day of his funeral.

That's right. The day of the man's funeral. If there is something more contemptible than that in the world of petty thievery, we'd love to hear it, if only to be able to say, "Well, that's pretty horrible, but it isn't the lowest thing ever."

Line Burns carries an urn containing the remains of her
late husband, former NHL coach
Pat Burns, following his funeral.

There is no earthly argument to make in favor of that one, no attempt required to see the thief's side of things, no level of need that makes this all right. This is the act of a hyena, and when Robin Burns, Pat's cousin, appealed to the thief to return the items "no questions asked," I had a question, namely:

Why can't we capture, hold and ask this person (and we use the term liberally) what possible voice in his or her head could have been so convincing that stealing a dead man's personal effects out of his widow's car the day of his memorial service would seem acceptable? Why wouldn't that be useful knowledge for some battery of psychologists? What level of hero worship (if it's that) could bring you to this particular ride in hell's amusement park, and why wouldn't we need to know a psychosis this twisted just for the next time?

Maybe there is a field of study that covers just this sort of thing (and if so, you may bet it is a dramatic series somewhere), but even if all we get out of it is a tawdry script, it's still useful.

Now don't get us wrong here -- the important thing is that the things that belong to Line Burns, Pat's wife, are returned to her. If no-questions-asked gets that done, then fine. Examining the birds in this thief's head is not worth her not getting at least this form of closure for the life her husband lived, and the remembrances of his friends and colleagues.

But if we could get both ... well, that's the best outcome. Maybe the thief could chat with some of Burns' finest on-ice enforcers, or some of his fellow Montreal policemen. Not to throw hands, mind you, but to offer added incentive for his explanation. Because, well, because if we want to study the long-term effect of concussion upon athletes, we'd also benefit from learning the long-term effect of heartless moron on the average burglar.

Oh, and if we can't track down the culprit, we could perhaps track down anyone who would buy any of Burns' effects and ask the same thing. If the answer isn't, "I did it so that I could return the items to the family, and I couldn't think of another way to do it," psychiatric care could be immediately imposed. You know, just for the medical value.

So let's review: The first duty here is make the Burns family whole again, as much as the mementos from his funeral can help. But catching the guy and letting him and any like-minded masterminds explain what in God's name could have possessed him to perform such a repulsive act is also a good thing.

A dose of planetary scorn and outrage for the giant from the world of crime wouldn't be a bad thing, either.