Undertaker paid for cremations that didn't happen
CENTRE - Shocked and disturbed.
Those were the first thoughts that flashed into the mind of Perry Funeral Home owner Bob Perry when he heard of the discoveries at the Tri-State Crematory.
After a neighborhood dog came home with a human skull in tow, Georgia police officers began investigating the crematory in Noble, Ga., and what they have uncovered so far is unfathomable.
Bob Perry: Q & A about cremation process
"I haven't had any dealings with Tri-State since 1996," said Perry. "Hopefully, I won't find out that any of the bodies found there were ones I sent. I know I did send 11 bodies around 1991-1992. I find myself thinking about what a perverse mind one must have to just pile lifeless, decomposing bodies on one another so he can save money."
As of Feb. 22, officials from Walker County and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had uncovered the remains of over 280 bodies stashed around the secluded, rural property owned by the Marsh family.
Ray Brent Marsh, 28, who in 1996 took over the crematorium from his ailing father, told authorities last week he couldn't cremate bodies because his incinerator was broken. He is currently being held in the Walker County jail and faces at least 16 counts of theft by deception for allegedly accepting payment for cremations he did not intend to perform.
So far, authorities have found bodies scattered across the property. Some were found inside vaults in the garage; others were sunk in a 3-acre lake on the property. Of the remains found, 54 had been positively identified by Feb. 22. At least 16 of them could be from Cherokee County funeral homes.
Investigator Danny Smith of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Department said has received a list of each body sent to Tri-State for cremation by funeral homes in Cherokee County. He said he and GBI officials are doing everything possible to reassure families who have loved ones on the list.
"Local families have been notified that if they are unsure the cremains they have are really cremains at all, they should bring them to the Walker County (Ga.) Civic Center, the makeshift site for the investigation," said Smith. "At least a fourth of the remains already inspected by investigators have turned out to be nothing more than potting soil and cement dust."
Initially, authorities supposed Ray Brent began the practice of hiding bodies after taking charge of the business six years ago. Now, however, preliminary reports indicate some of the bodies may be more than 20 years old. With more remains being found every day, officials aren't ready to give an official statement on the age of any of the bodies.
Perry said he has met Ray Brent's father, Ray, Sr., and that the Marshes seemed to be good people. Still, Perry said he feels the entire family had to have been aware of what was going on at the crematory.
"I have met Ray Marsh, Sr., on several occasions," said Perry. "He is a very intelligent man. I thought I was a good judge of character, but obviously I'm not."
Citizens of Walker County were also fooled by the Marsh family. Neighbors told The Associated Press they often saw Ray Brent in town with his newborn daughter. Clara taught in Walker County schools for 30 years, was a past Walker County Citizen of the Year and held the position of president on the Walker County Association of Educators. Ray, Sr., sat on the Walker County Department of Family and Children's Services board of directors for many years.
Perry said he plans to do the right thing if any of the bodies are found to have come from his funeral home.
"There is no reason to believe that any of those bodies came from my funeral home," said Perry. "However, there are many circumstances in the investigation that are not being made public, so I don't know for sure. If it was found that one of the cadavers found was from here, we would-at our expense-see to it that those people were properly cremated by K.L. Brown Funeral Home and Crematorium in Jacksonville." Perry also said that if family members are undecided about cremation in the wake of events at Tri-State, the management of K.L Brown has agreed to offer tours of their facilities to any interested parties.
"Our local officers are assisting Walker County officials and the GBI as best as we can," said Smith. "For families with complaints and concerns, they should call 1-888-887-1845, which is the consumer affairs department for the state of Georgia."
The Marsh family also owns several rental houses in Noble. Some tenants told authorities last week that Ray Brent had been digging around their septic systems recently under the guise of making repairs. Police now plan to search around those homes and fear they will find more human remains.
Following the publicity of the event at the crematory, Alabama legislators last week proposed a crematory licensing bill. Crematories would also be subject to annual inspections under the new law. Alabama does not currently regulate crematories.
The bill would also prohibit mingling or dividing remains or ashes unless authorized by the family. It would also prohibit cremations within 24 hours of death.'