Six bodies found at crematory operator's home
NOBLE, Georgia (CNN) -- Investigators searching with a backhoe unearthed the remains of five more people Tuesday afternoon from an area near the home of the operator of a crematory, who has been implicated in the dumping of as many as 200 bodies in nearby woods.
Milton "Buddy" Nix, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, said the five bodies were found in dirt mounds discovered near the home of Ray Brent Marsh, 28.
Earlier in the day, a coffin containing a body described as "putrefied" was found behind the house, next to a lake.
The home adjoins the Tri-State Crematory where at least 149 decaying bodies have been counted. Of those, 29 have been positively identified, Georgia Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry said.
Marsh faces 16 felony counts of theft by deception, one count for each of the bodies identified at the time he was charged.
The charges refer to the failure to perform the cremations at Tri-State Crematory that had been purchased.
Forensics teams expected to concentrate Wednesday on the contents of six vaults on the crematory property filled with human remains, Nix said.
The teams anticipate that the vaults -- meant to hold a single body -- could hold from 20 to 40 bodies apiece.
Behind Marsh's house, next to a lake, searchers found a coffin that contained "a putrefied body," said Vernon Keenan, deputy GBI director.
Other coffins containing embalmed bodies also have been found in other locations, said Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson. The coffins were buried at one time and dug up; investigators were tracing their serial numbers.
Searchers took at least one box from Marsh's house Tuesday, searched two cars in the garage and sifted through trash.
Wilson said they were looking for business records, including possible lists of bodies accepted by the crematory.
Authorities were told that the Marshes might also have shipped some bodies elsewhere for cremation.
Marsh's mother and father live in another house on the crematory's grounds, but Wilson said they were now staying elsewhere. Marsh's father opened the business in the early 1970s and his son has been running it since the mid-1990s.
The family has had no comment on the probe.
Wilson, who knows some members of the family, told a news conference Tuesday, "Certainly, I would say they're a good family. I don't know what went wrong."
Nix said he was told it costs an operator about $25 to cremate a body. Wilson wondered aloud what the payoff would have been to skip the process, given the minimal costs.
"That's the million dollar question, I guess, why did this happen over this period of years," Wilson said.
Jack Springer, director of the Chicago-based Cremation Association of North America criticized funeral home directors who contracted for cremations with Tri-State for not visiting the property on a regular basis.
"They have put themselves in a great liability situation," Springer said, noting the association provides inspection training as part of its services.
Springer said that of the 60,000 deaths in Georgia last year, about 6,000 bodies were cremated. The average cost to the family of a basic cremation is about $1,200, he said, but some families spend thousands on an urn and funeral.
When he was arrested last Saturday, Marsh told authorities the facility's incinerator had not worked for some time, Wilson said.
A spokesman for the company that made the incinerator said the Marshes had since 1984 declined all offers to service the unit, but they did buy a key part in August 1997.
Roger Elliott from Industrial Equipment & Engineering Co., based in Orlando, Florida, said he did not know whether the part was ever installed.
Elliott said his company's records show that Marsh's father, also named Ray, purchased a $20,000 incinerator in fall 1982, the same year IEE manufactured it.
IEE serviced the incinerator in November 1984, but subsequent offers to service the unit were declined, Elliott said. He noted, however, the Marshes could have had another company perform the maintenance, which is recommended every two years.
Elliott said there was nothing in company records indicating what Tri-State's response was to the service offers. A service call costs $795. The type of incinerator the family bought could cremate 200 bodies a year on average, Elliott said.
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