COLUMBIA, S.C. (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Two funeral home workers have been charged with desecration of human remains after authorities say they left a body to rot in an unrefrigerated room surrounded by air-fresheners for nearly three years in South Carolina.
Lawrence Robert Meadows and Roderick Mitchell Cummings, both 40, were indicted Friday by a state grand jury. A conviction on the charge carries a sentence of one to 10 years in prison.
They were supposed to cremate 63-year-old Mary Alice Pitts Moore after her funeral in Greenwood in March 2015, but instead left her remains in a locked room under blankets and “surrounded by fragrant items,” and even moved her body from one funeral home to another 65 miles away, according to a lawsuit filed by Moore’s family.
Moore’s remains were so badly decomposed when found in February at First Family Funeral Home in Spartanburg it took two weeks of reviewing medical records to confirm her identity, Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said.
The state Board of Funeral Service revoked the license of First Family Funeral Home earlier this month after complaints from Moore’s family and others.
Meadows lost his funeral director’s license in April 2015 in an unrelated matter after he forged the signature and other information on a life insurance document after the person with control of the policy refused to use it to pay for funeral services, according to state records.
Cummings has never had a funeral license in South Carolina, according to documents.
Meadows’ lawyer, state Sen. Scott Talley, didn’t return a phone message Monday. Court records indicate Cummins is acting as his own lawyer and calls to a listing for his home went unanswered.
Moore’s family held a Celebration of Life service where her body was viewed shortly after her March 26, 2015, death. Her remains were then supposed to be cremated and returned to the family.
The lawsuit and indictment don’t give any reason why the funeral home kept Moore’s body for nearly three years. The Post and Courier of Charleston obtained sworn statements from the State Law Enforcement Division that said that Cummings and Meadows kept the remains because the family didn’t pay its bills.
The newspaper first reported on Moore as part of a series detailing poor oversight of funeral homes around the state.
Moore’s husband, Fred Parker Jr., said another funeral home went ahead and cremated his wife’s body. Her ashes sit in an urn in his Greenwood home beside a tiny portrait taken from her driver’s license — it’s the only photo he has.
“Three years,” Parker said to the newspaper in a low growl, slowly drawing out the words. “How would you feel? It gets worse every day just thinking about it.”
In a very similar case in Texas in 2014, police in Fort Worth found several dead bodies inside a vacant funeral home. Eight bodies, including a baby, were left inside the building that was formerly home to the Johnson Family Mortuary.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)