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Lack of oversight contributes to horror at crematorium



Published: Wed, February 27, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



After the shock of the initial reports wears off, the questions begin to arise.

How could more than 330 bodies that were supposed to be cremated end up stacked in sheds and strewn about a small Georgia woods? Why would a young man from a family with an impeccable reputation and a good reputation in his own right betray the families and funeral homes that entrusted him with a solemn duty?

For now, there's only the thinnest of explanations, and a judge has gagged all parties involved in criminal charges against the crematorium operator, making it unlikely that the public will be getting any good explanation soon.

Brent Marsh, 28, is an unlikely monster. A high school football star in his hometown of Noble, Ga., he played football at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, before returning home to take over the family business. He was married and proudly carried pictures of his baby daughter.

But his ugly secret was that for years he had been picking up bodies at funeral homes, stockpiling them at the Tri-State Crematory and, in some cases, even returning containers of counterfeit ashes to the next of kin. He perpetrated this cruel fraud for a measly $200 per body. If the story that the furnace was broken is to believed, it would have cost about $40,000 to replace it.

Consequences: Now Marsh faces jail time and he and his family -- his father is a retired postal worker; his mother, a retired teacher -- face financial ruin. The state of Georgia will spend millions of dollars to clean the site up and identify the remains. Families will file lawsuits that far exceed Marsh family assets. Dozens of funeral homes that sent bodies to Tri-State face enormous liability.

It begs the question as to why such a sensitive industry is, at least in Georgia, so poorly regulated. The state has two investigators to police every kind of funeral service in the state.

That, no doubt, will change, but too late to save the millions of dollars that have been lost, not to mention the incalculable pain suffered by families who thought they had done everything they could to assure dignified treatment for the remains of loved ones.

Some families will never know to a certainty what happened to the mortal remains of family members. Those who scattered the "ashes" of their loved ones will be haunted by the possibility that they scattered cement mix, which has been found in some of the urns that were opened.

Georgia thought it was getting off cheap by not properly regulating the funeral industry. Now it knows better.




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