Funeral Home Left Body To Rot For 3 Years: Lawsuit
SPARTANBURG, SC — Two South Carolina funeral home owners have been indicted on criminal charges and their business is being sued for allowing a man’s late wife’s body to decompose in an unrefrigerated room for three years.
Mary Alice Pitts Moore, 63, died during a medical procedure more than three years ago. On the recommendation of a relative Fred Parker Jr. made arrangements for services for his wife of nearly four decades with First Family Funeral Home of Spartanburg, which had a branch in nearby Greenwood, where a celebration of life service was held at an old AME church in rural Greenwood in April 2015.
But when Parker and the couple’s son tried to collect Moore’s ashes, they got the runaround. The Greenwood facility seemed never to be open, and their calls were unanswered, according to an investigative report by the Courier and Post. The family finally gave up.
They didn’t know what had happened to Moore’s remains until Parker received a disturbing call this past February from Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger and an investigator from the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. They told Parker they had been tipped off by an employee of the funeral home in Spartanburg and discovered Moore’s body, which had decomposed beyond recognition in the unrefrigerated room.
“You wouldn’t want to do a dog that bad,” Parker told the Index-Journal newspaper, adding: “I never thought something like that would’ve happened to her. … They took the body from the church to Spartanburg and left it in that closet for three years.”
The employee told investigators scent bombs to mask the smell had been placed around the body, according to television station WSPA. The embalmed body was covered with only a cloth, according to investigators. When the employee asked others at the funeral home about the body, she was told “don’t worry about it,” the television station reported.
First Family Funeral Home co-owners Lawrence Robert Meadows and Roderick Mitchell Cummings were indicted this summer on separate counts of desecration of human remains for allowing Ms. Moore’s body to decompose in the unrefrigerated room for more nearly three years.
If convicted, they could go to prison for 10 years and fined up to $5,000.
Investigators said in arrest warrants that Meadows and Cummings kept Moore’s body because her family didn’t pay the entire bill for her services. Parker told the Index-Journal he paid $1,100 and his daughter paid another $300.
“He never did try to contact me or anything, no nothing,” he said of the funeral home’s owner.
First Family Funeral Home’s license was suspended earlier this year by the state’s Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation. Cummings was never licensed as a funeral director in South Carolina, but Meadows had lost his funeral director’s license in 2015 after an investigation showed he forged a dead person’s signature on insurance documents, the WSPA report said.
Despite Meadows’ funeral director’s license suspension, he remained active in the operation of the home, even appearing in a nationally televised interview that showed his office and a casket display, according to an investigative report by the Post and Courier.
The Post and Courier said the handling of Moore’s body raises deeper questions about South Carolina’s system for monitoring nearly 500 funeral homes and crematories and 800 licensed staff members. The newspaper said the system is “largely governed by funeral industry insiders” and “is rife with delays, secrecy and potential conflicts that allow unscrupulous undertakers to continue operating for years after problems are discovered.”
The newspaper said its review a decade’s worth of funeral board records revealed numerous instances where funeral directors and embalmers mishandled remains and sloppily covered up their missteps, stole from trust accounts and entrapped families.
With only two state inspectors, even routine complaints can take up to five months to investigate and close, and some can languish for as long as five years, the report said.
And because the complaints are sealed during the investigations, families like Moore’s relatives have no way of knowing about any issues the state may be investigating.
As for Parker, he told the Index-Journal that he and Moore’s family are “living one day at a time” after learning their loved one had been stuffed in a closed room and allowed to rot.
“I’ll be glad when this is over,” he said. “I will be glad when it’s all behind us. We’ve been struggling … Emotionally, I just ain’t right in the head anymore.”
He and Moore had been married for 38 years after he helped her escape an abusive marriage. He described her to the Post and Courier as “a lovely lady,” a quiet and even-tempered woman with a passion for reading encyclopedias and fishing. Kidney disease required regular dialysis in her final years, Parker said, but she never complained.
The lawsuit he and his son filed asks for damages as “appropriate to punish the defendants.”
“I’m still toting her picture in my wallet. I had to stop looking at it. She was a good woman. That’s all I can say,” Parker told the Index-Journal. “Man, if I could get her back, oh Lord. That’s my heart. That’s my heart.”
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