Archive for Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Charges mount against operator as more bodies found at crematory

February 19, 2002


— Grim-faced investigators on Monday unearthed dozens more corpses scattered around a northwest Georgia crematory, finding skeletons sealed in vaults and bodies that had been dragged into a shed. The count rose to 139.

Forensics teams said they had identified 27 bodies, and agents warned they expected to find many more. "I can't even begin to guess" what the total will be, said Dr. Kris Sperry, the state's chief medical examiner.

Authorities cautioned they might never be able to identify all the bodies and all the ashes, partly because DNA testing is nearly impossible once a body has been cremated, Sperry said.

Ray Brent Marsh, operator of Tri-State Crematory in this rural town 20 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn., was arrested for a second time and authorities filed 11 new theft-by-deception charges against him, bringing the total to 16.

Calls to Marsh and the crematory went unanswered Monday; voicemail boxes at both numbers were full.

Walker County chief magistrate Jerry Day said a bond hearing for Marsh would likely take place today. It had been scheduled for Monday until court officials learned Marsh did not yet have an attorney, Day said.

Authorities returned on Monday to grounds near the Tri-State Crematory, where they had recovered 97 bodies stacked in storage sheds and discarded in woods.

Officials have said they expect to find as many as 200 bodies at the crematory, including some that had likely been decomposing for up to 15 years.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said authorities were asking relatives of people whose bodies had been sent to the crematory for any information that might help identify their loved ones, including surgical scars and dental records.

He said investigators were continuing the search, "bagging and tagging" the bodies as they find them.

Like hundreds of residents in this hamlet, Lisa Cash can't understand how anyone could leave her mother's body to rot alongside piles of others.

Cash's mother, Norma Hutton, 55, died Dec. 31 of kidney failure. Based on her deceased mother's wishes, Cash asked for the remains to be cremated. They weren't.

Now Cash must try to reconcile for her kids the newly uncovered body of their grandmother with the urn that they were told contained her remains.

"They don't understand. How can granny be there and here too?" Cash said of her four children, ages 13, 12, 11 and 8. "I explained: 'Somebody lied."'

Officials denied reporters access to the 16-acre tract but photographers who flew over the area about 25 miles south of Chattanooga said they could see lines of white body bags.

"I have no idea how this happened," Samuel Marsh, who is Marsh's brother, said in a telephone interview Sunday. "It's just crazy to me."

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