Crematory grounds could yield 200-plus bodies
NOBLE, Georgia (CNN) -- The grounds of a northwest Georgia crematory here may hold as many as 200 bodies left unburied and not cremated by the facility's operator, authorities said Sunday.
Kris Sperry, Georgia's chief medical examiner, said each of the five burial vaults found at the crematory contain about 30 bodies. In addition, "at least four or five" other vaults have been identified in the nearby woods, Sperry said.
"Altogether, I'd say we know of about 200 bodies," he said.
Ray Brent Marsh, 28, the son of the crematory's owners, was arrested Saturday and charged with theft by deception after authorities discovered about 80 unburied bodies and body parts in sheds and strewn on the crematory grounds.
Marsh told investigators the facility's incinerator had not worked for some time, said John Bankhead, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman.
Noble is a small town tucked into the extreme northwest corner of Georgia near the Tennessee and Alabama borders. It is about 85 miles northwest of Atlanta.
"There is no rational or logical explanation for this, and I'm about to the point of stopping trying because I can't comprehend it," Sperry said. "I can't process it and make any real sense out of it."
He said 92 sets of remains have been recovered and tagged, with 16 positively identified.
Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes met with "shocked and angry" relatives of the dead Sunday. Barnes promised to support legislation placing crematories under the same state regulations as funeral homes.
"This should not happen again," he said.
Barnes issued an emergency declaration Saturday authorizing state assistance to local investigators.
"We will take whatever resources are necessary from a state basis to identify the bodies, help in the investigation and help in the prosecution of those who are responsible," he said.
Veteran cops shaken by scene
Marsh's mother and father lived on the grounds of the Tri-State Crematory but may not have known about the bodies, Bankhead said. Marsh has run the business since taking over from his father, who is bedridden, in the mid-1990s.
A nearby resident called the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Atlanta office Friday about the dumped remains.
The crematory is on 16 acres that includes a large lake and is surrounded by a residential neighborhood: It was built before the county passed zoning laws, said Lisa Ray, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
Several veteran law enforcement officers said they were shaken by the grisly scene.
"No one has ever encountered a scene like this," said Assistant GBI Director Vernon Keenan.
Counselors were called in to help family members, few of whom had ever heard of the crematory. One woman said she believed the urn she had been told contained the ashes of her dead mother probably contained concrete.
"We are telling the families that had relatives cremated to call the funeral homes and ask them, 'Were their relatives sent to the place?'" Bankhead said.
Authorities quickly identified some of the bodies as a result of a 1994 law requiring bodies be identified before burial or cremation. Legislators passed the law after floods in south Georgia caused dozens of caskets to rise from cemeteries and float away, Ray said.
Area funeral directors have been enlisted to help identify the bodies. But it is unlikely all the bodies and body parts will be identified, Ray said. Some of them had no identification, indicating they died before the 1994 law.
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