Monday, June 22, 2009

This Could Happen To You If You Keep a Friend's Dead Grandmother and the Friend Doesn't Return for Several Years

Dead Grandmother, After Five Years Decomposing-Note the Missing Tooth in the Upper Right Jaw. Possible gold theft.

By Ariel Barkhurst - Express-News

Investigations continued Saturday into the discovery of a body of a woman — dead for several years— in a rusty casket at the abandoned Forest Park Funeral Home on the East Side.

When Forest Park vacated the location this month, the body of Ada T. Young was left behind because the family had not paid for a funeral, administrator William Hardy said.

San Antonio police are investigating the incident as an alleged abuse of a corpse.

Sgt. Edward Rohmer said the body was transported to the Bexar County medical examiner's office after it was found Friday. The medical examiner's investigation will help determine whether police pursue criminal charges against Hardy or the owner of the funeral home, Clara Bell, Rohmer said.

“It depends on whether it was natural (death) and whether they can positively ID the person,” Rohmer said.

On Friday, Hardy said the funeral home had been in possession of Young's body since 2004, when she died and received a chapel funeral. Her closest surviving family member, a granddaughter, could not pay for the funeral or burial, Hardy said.

“I have always carried that body,” Hardy said. “Every time we went to a new location, I had that body with me. I helped them.”

But when Forest Park recently left its location in the 1900 block of Rigsby Avenue, Hardy said he did not move the body again.

“I have a very ill sister,” he said, “and she's at hospice, and I had a tough week from an illness perspective, and I didn't get around to doing anything about it. But she's been dead since 2004. And her granddaughter has not done anything about it.”

The family could apply for a county burial, according to Joseph Conde, funeral director for M.E. Rodriguez Funeral Home, which handles Bexar County's pauper burials. If the family's income status qualifies, the county will bury the body. And if the family doesn't apply, the funeral home could, Conde said.

“The funeral home should've had the audacity to call Bexar County and say, ‘We have a body, and the family can't pay,'” Conde said.

When asked if he was aware of the county burial option, Hardy said he was not.

The abandonment of Young's body, kept in a storage shed behind the former funeral home, was reported by Tina Leggett and her husband, Reginald McCraney, who live above the business. Leggett said she and McCraney had been in the shed with Hardy and had seen the casket mostly hidden beneath papers and other materials.

But after Forest Park left, Leggett said McCraney got curious about the casket.

“My husband said, ‘Let's go ... pull it out,'” Leggett said. “And I was like, ‘And do what with it?' But he said, ‘Let's just pull it out.' So we did. It (casket) was all rusted, so we could tell something was wrong. Then he opened it, and you could smell that smell.”

Young's body, Leggett said, was dressed in a pale white gown, open at the neck; the casket was silver with maroon trim. The body was badly decomposed, she said, but considering all things she looked peaceful and at rest. "Her gown has held up remarkably well for such a long time on a decomposing body," said Ms. Leggett, speaking only on condition of not being quoted. Sorry, Ms. L.

Leaving behind a body could pose legal liabilities, said J.D. Pauerstein, an attorney who represents several funeral homes.

“It is illegal, under several provisions of the civil and criminal statues in Texas,” Pauerstein said. “The penal code has a provision in it that says it's a criminal offense to treat a human corpse in an offensive manner. There's a basis to prosecute someone who abandons a corpse.”

The abuse of a corpse statute, that provides for criminal penalties, has been on the books for many years. Most people don't realize it's a crime to abuse a corpse. So sometimes they will just discard it in a dumpster or, as happened somewhere in the Northwest recently, barbecue the corpse on a back yard grill.

"The state has to prosecute because the corpse doesn't really care in most instances what happens to it after it is dead and it can't make either a verbal or a written complaint, which has caused some state legislators to question the continued vitality of the law. One Texas state Senator raised the question of why waste state tax dollars prosecuting corpse abusers and keeping them in prison, at public expense, when the abusee, the corpse, can't even make a complaint on its own? "Now if the corpse is sexually abused while it is still warm, that is another matter altogether and we have laws prohibiting necrophilia also," said a local sheriff who was not authorized to speak about the matter.

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