Georgia crematory operator faces Friday court date
NOBLE, Georgia (CNN) -- A county judge issued a gag order Thursday in the case of a crematory operator accused of failing to cremate hundreds of bodies and hiding them on his northwest Georgia property instead.
Walker County Superior Court Judge Ralph Hill issued the order in the early evening. It cut short a news briefing by law enforcement officials near Tri-State Crematory in Noble, near Georgia's borders with Tennessee and Alabama.
Before the order was announced, Georgia Chief Medical Examiner Kris Sperry said investigators had completed emptying six burial vaults found on the crematory's grounds. The vaults, each designed to hold one body, contained 67 sets of remains, Sperry said.
Search teams have now recovered 283 corpses and identified 54 of those, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
The crematory's operator, Ray Brent Marsh, is under close watch in the Walker County Jail, Sheriff Steve Wilson said. He faces 16 felony counts of theft by deception -- one count for each of the bodies identified at the time he was charged. Authorities say Marsh, 28, did not perform cremations that families had paid him to do.
Court hearing Friday
A bond hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, said William J. Day, Walker County's chief magistrate. The hearing had been delayed until Marsh hired an attorney.
The recovery operation at the crematory and nearby parcels has cost $5 million over its first five days, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Deputy Director Vernon Keenan. Salaries and heavy equipment costs account for most of the expense, he said.
Authorities have also decided to drain a lake on Marsh's property after investigators using underwater radar and infrared cameras found a human skull and torso on Wednesday.
The entire recovery process could take eight months, investigators said. State officials said they plan to ask the federal government for emergency funds to offset the cost of the operation, which one official described as "a catastrophe that can only be described as a horror story."
"The odor is now overwhelming," Keenan said Thursday. "But our agents and the deputies who were on the scene Friday did not smell anything."
The state has set up a morgue facility in an undisclosed location and brought in specialists to help identify the remains. Once a body is identified, it is sent to the funeral home that sent it to Tri-State and the family is notified, Keenan said.
-- CNN Correspondent Art Harris contributed to this report.
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Crematory grounds could yield 200-plus bodies
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Georgia Bureau of Investigation
Georgia Emergency Management Agency
Walker County Sherrif's Department
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