Dying in Florida. Would cremation help?

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December 21, 2001

Funeral Company Accused of Desecration

By TAMAR LEWIN

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Dec. 20 In a class-action lawsuit filed here, relatives of three people buried in local Jewish cemeteries accuse the nation's largest funeral company, Service Corporation International, of desecrating remains breaking open burial vaults and dumping the contents in the woods, crushing vaults to make room for others, mixing body parts from different individuals and digging up and reburying remains in locations other than the plots purchased.

One plaintiff, Carol Prisco, who lives on Long Island, said her parents, Meyer and Shirley Goldstein, had bought a joint plot at Menorah Gardens and Funeral Chapels in West Palm Beach, where her father was buried last year. But when the cemetery books were examined by investigators preparing the lawsuit, it became clear that another body was there, too, so there would be no room for Mrs. Goldstein. Ms. Prisco then had her father's body disinterred and moved to a New York cemetery.

"What they did is horrific," Ms. Prisco said. "This is sacred land, and the dead deserve respect from the living. When I found out about this, it was so bizarre that I felt like I was in a Stephen King movie."

Although the lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in Broward Circuit Court, names only three plaintiffs, Neal Hirschfeld, one of the lawyers handling the case, said he had received inquiries from hundreds of other families with relatives buried at one of Service Corporation International's five cemeteries in South Florida, and expected the class to grow substantially. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

The Associated Press Kenneth and Myra Stone at a news conference on Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., about a class-action lawsuit against a funeral company. "We've already heard from more than 500 other families who are wondering what might have happened to their loved ones," Mr. Hirschfeld said. "It's hard to describe how painful and difficult it has been for families to hear that they scooped up remnants of people whose spaces they needed and tossed them in the woods."

Jerald L. Pullins, president and chief operating officer of Service Corporation International, which is based in Houston, said today in a statement that the activities described in the lawsuit were "completely contrary to our policies and procedures."

"We are taking these allegations seriously and are conducting an internal investigation," he added.

Florida's attorney general, Bob Butterworth, began an investigation of the company last month after being contacted by the plaintiffs' lawyers in late September. This week, Mr. Butterworth issued subpoenas for all of Service Corporation's Florida burial records.

"A preliminary review of the information we were provided with was enough to issue a subpoena of their burial records," said John deGroot, an aide to Mr. Butterworth. "If even a portion of these allegations are true, this is going to be devastating to many people."

In one case cited in the lawsuit, Charles Albert, a former gravedigger at the West Palm Beach cemetery, said he had been told to dig up the grave of Hyman Cohen and to throw anything he dug up in the woods in back of the cemetery. Among the remains found in the woods have been bones, a burial shroud and a Star of David necklace.

The plot was then used for the burial of Frances Gold, Mr. Hirschfeld said. Myra Stone, Ms. Gold's daughter, said she had felt ill when she discovered that her mother's grave had contained the remains of someone else.

The five cemeteries Service Corporation International operates in Florida are in North Miami Beach, Sunrise, Deerfield Beach, West Palm Beach and here. Mr. Hirschfeld said that the cemeteries' records were so poorly kept that it was diificult to tell who is buried in what plot, but that the records seemed to indicate widespread wrongdoing, with problems affecting as many as 660 spaces at the West Palm Beach cemetery alone. In most cases, he said, plots bought in advance by people who are still alive have already been filled with the remains of others.

According to the complaint, the company buried some remains in a manner that encroached on other plots, and sold burial areas without sufficient space, leading them to crush, layer or remove remains to make room for more.

The questions about the West Palm Beach cemetery first arose years ago, when Mr. Hirschfeld sued Menorah Park in West Palm Beach for losing a woman's amputated legs. In 1994, when the $1.25 million verdict he won in that case became big news in Florida, other families began calling with questions about their relatives.

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company | Privacy Information

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), December 21, 2001

Answers

it was so bizarre that I felt like I was in a Stephen King movie.

Welcome to the club. MY life is like that, as well.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), December 21, 2001.


No, cremation wouldn't help. Some of those places go ahead and toast several people before they clean out the ashes and put it into the boxes all mixed together, so you never know who you are really getting that way either. It's a lot cheaper though.

-- (ashes @ to. ashes), December 21, 2001.

REALLY??? So it isn't just Mom in that box on top of the entertainment caenter I talk to all the time??? No wonder I don't get any answers.

-- Cherri (jessam5@home.com), December 21, 2001.

Cherri,

It's like firing up a kiln, it sucks up a LOT of power. They like to keep it running hot, so they run 'em through like an assembly line rather than cooling it down every time to get the ashes. There might be a little of your Mom in that box, but there's probably a dozen others in there too.

-- (cremation@assembly.line), December 21, 2001.


Dad's still in a box in the closet, Cherri, but if I start talking about the voices I keep hearing, it will be a clue that he's not the ONLY one in that box.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), December 22, 2001.


Oh for gossakes! Scatter those ashes! Don't leave them lying around the house for the next generation to deal with if you expire suddenly.

I found two such parcels in gran's attic when she passed from a heart attack. The find broke my aunt's heart. That didn't need to happen.

Scatter those ashes! You won't miss them.

-- (Lurker22@Surfing.theNet), December 22, 2001.


The deal was that dad and Lucky's ashes would be mixed together and THEN tossed into a Norwegian Fjord. To be honest, I never really thought about getting those ashes through customs. I suppose if bodies can go back to the homeland, ashes can, as well. If *I* die before Lucky, the kids know what to do and they'll carry THREE boxes to Norway. I'm just glad they got over their curiosity about was in the box. They spilled a little bit and there I was vaccuuming up a little piece of dad.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), December 22, 2001.

Friday December 28 1:25 PM ET

Nebraska Woman Returns Sister's Ashes to Wal-Mart

OMAHA, Nebraska (Reuters) - A Nebraska woman who received an ornate box for Christmas and returned it to Wal-Mart without looking inside discovered later it contained the ashes of her recently deceased sister, a newspaper reported on Friday.

Judy Money received the box as a gift from her brother who lives in Iowa. But after unwrapping the package on Christmas Eve she saw the box had a broken knob and decided to return it to Wal-Mart without ever looking at the contents inside, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

When Money later confessed to her brother that she had returned his gift, he told her the box contained the ashes of their sister, who had died Dec. 11, the Herald said.

Marvin Tippery, Money's brother, told the Herald he was shocked when he found out she had returned the box.

``No, no, you didn't! Your sister was in there,'' the Herald quoted him as telling Money.

Money told the Herald she made a mad dash back to Wal-Mart, but the box had already been thrown out with the trash.

Money and her brother finally found the box on Thursday amid trash piles at an area landfill.

``My prayers have been answered,'' she told the Herald. ``Just the thought of having her in the dump was awful.''

-- (dumb@and.dumber), December 28, 2001.


I think keeping someone's ashes is just plain weird and CREEPY. Why not just keep memories and photos of how you remember them before they passed, and not after their bodies are incinerated. I'd prefer to be buried.

-- (cin@cin.cin), December 28, 2001.

I think keeping someone's ashes is just plain weird and CREEPY

This from someone who has a rat for a pet?

-- (lol@lol.lol), December 28, 2001.



Um...Stuart's alive. And when it's time for him to go to rat heaven, he will be properly buried.

Keeping someone's ashes is likened to keeping a dead body around, or having your favorite animal stuffed because you can't seem to let go. It's GROSS.

-- (cin@cin.cin), December 28, 2001.


Ummm, I picked them up after she was cremated, Dad couldn't handle them being over there so I had her in the trunk. There is a Family burial plot North of here where my second Son (who died at 5 months) is burried over my Grandmother Stewart's casket. They now put them on top of one another if they are burried deep enough.

Grandma Stewart used to bake peanut butter cookies and have them in the oven when we came home from school.

One day Dad called me, freaked out, he had been going through boxes and stuck his hand in one filled with ashes and thought they were Mom. They were of their cat, Scamper, who had died of cancer a year earlier. I was so busy trying to take care of Dad that I never did get over to the Cemetary to drop off the Mom's ashes for burial, I took them into the house because people would become uneasy when I told them Mom was in the trunk. This is the type of thing Mom hated about me, my honesty to the point of discomfort for others. After Dad died and my Brother took his ashes, supposidly to have them burried. He was going to put Dad in a Vet's Cemetary across the state, the stupid moron hadn't been around enough in the past 30 years to know anything about the family. I INFORMED him about the Family plot and that is where Dad wanted to go, but since my brothers have done nothing but give me grief since Dad died, and refused to talk at all, like normal adults would, I don't know where Dad is right now. As soon as I get some portion of my part of the inheratance I will take Mom in and have a private service for her. She and Dad need to be together, after almost 55 years of marriage. I did not intend to keep Mom's ashes here, but I want them where I can see them to make sure they do not get tossed out by accident.

-- Cherri (jessam5@home.com), December 28, 2001.


Cin,

You don't know what GROSS is until you've seen a body that has been decaying underground for several months, being devoured by maggots and worms.

Cremation is the best way to go IMO. There is nothing wrong with keeping the ashes, as they have been completely sterilized. Though I think it is better to keep them in a nice metal urn rather than a box.

-- (dust@to.dust), December 28, 2001.


When I go I guess I won't be in a position to care what someone does with my remains, but the best thing I can think of is to scatter someone's ashes in the ocean or in the garden, or in some beloved place in nature that the person loved to spend their time... Not put them in some freaking box. Of course wouldn't you know... doing that is illegal in most states.

When my ex-MIL died and was cremated we scattered her ashes offshore at the northern point of [location withheld] the next day. Illegal or not. It is a simple capturing of the emotion of the years in that moment and you honor them and, symbolically, let them go. The memories remain.

Well I guess an urn is nice. But eventually it takes on the property of "MORE STUFF I have to figure out what to do with." What does it have to do with your memories of this person, or what their own life meant to them? Nothing.

Don't you know, your body renews all of its cells every 7 years? The physical stuff is just the most transient of vessels.

If you want to put up a memorial stone or whatever, do that. Symbolism is powerful but it IS symbolism. There doesn't have to be a dead body under it.

Ponderings for the wee hours.... may morning come soon!

-- Debbie (dbspence@pobox.com), December 29, 2001.


Why on earth would a state have a law making it illegal to scatter ashes? That may mean that some years ago I broke the law, not that I give a poop in hell.

-- Peter Errington (petere7@starpower.net), December 29, 2001.


You weren't just cleaning out your grill, were you, Peter?

I find it almost humorous that the wishes of our parents are being subjected to such criticism. The "box" is what one receives from the funeral home. The ashes are inside a plastic bag within the box. Purchasing a metal urn would seem more permanent, if one HAD been instructed to actually keep the ashes, but I think most folks have been instructed to do something else with them, but must wait for one reason or another.

-- Anita (Anita_S3@hotmail.com), December 30, 2001.


Anita, you said, "I find it almost humorous that the wishes of our parents are being subjected to such criticism"

In case you were referring to MY comments, those were reflections on culture in general. I apologize if anyone was offended.

My parents' wishes, when the time comes, will be honored to the letter, whether I or my siblings agree with them or not.

As for my ex's mother, she had not stated any wishes. She had not expected to die without warning at age 53. There were no closer relatives to take part in the decision. just her son (my then-husband) and daughter, and I happened to agree with what they did.

-- Debbie (dbspence@pobox.com), December 30, 2001.


Death cannot be fixed !!

-- Jack (jsprat@eld.net), December 31, 2001.

but tags can be

-- off (off@off.off), December 31, 2001.

A lady here asked to be creamated, loaded into five fireworks skyrockets and have each one of her five children light of a rocket where we give our annual Fourth of July show.

We granted the request (after some fun with the fact that it was her ex-husband who was in charge of the display, how's that for the final word, load your ass into a rocket and kaboom), surprisingly a number of people were appalled that we granted the request and insisted that there had to be a law against it. There are very little regulations on the disposal of ashes.

I always wondered if she didn't come down someones gutter the next time it rained.

-- Jack Booted Thug (governmentconspiracy@NWO.com), December 31, 2001.


I find it odd that people want to be buried underground. Having gone to three funerals in recent years, I'm amazed that people are willing to spend thousands on a casket, then another thousand on a cement water-proofed encasement, just to be placed six feet under on some plot of real estate.

When my mother was picking out a plot, she was trying to decide on the one large enough for six burials or something smaller. She turned to me and asked if I wanted to be buried along side her. After I told her that I would be cremated, she looked at me as if I were alien. She decided on the larger plot, I think, in hopes that I would change my mind or that I was just joking with her. I don't think she'll mind right now how I treat my body after death because it's truly insignificant.

-- Maria (anon@ymous.com), December 31, 2001.


When scattering ashes, it is wise to test the wind.

-- (John Goodman @ Big.Lebowski), December 31, 2001.

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