Facility faces investigation after remains of 10 adults and 1 child found.
At least one body had been there since January, official says.
Authorities in Ohio are investigating a funeral home in Toledo where 11 bodies were discovered in a damp room. They say the bodies were supposed to be cremated but instead were being stored in cremation boxes and body bags.
The Lucas County coroner’s office said the bodies of 10 adults and an infant born prematurely were found on Friday. A deputy coroner said most of the deaths were of a medical nature so autopsies were not necessary.
Dr Diane Barnett said the concern was over the condition of the bodies and their identification. She told the Blade newspaper that at least one body had been at the funeral home since January.
Barnett said the most recent death occurred about two weeks ago.
Toledo police helped state authorities remove the bodies and are investigating what happened.
The family of the 56-year-old Toledoan — a man they described as caring and compassionate and whom they called “Uncle Freddy” — said they hustled for weeks after his April 23 death to pay the bill. After each car wash or donation, they dropped off the cash they collected at the Lagrange Street mortuary.
Mr. Winkelman didn’t have life insurance, his family said, and didn’t leave money to cover his final expenses. Cremation was the most affordable option but not her brother’s preference, said Peggy Abshire of Toledo.
About two weeks ago, his niece, Pam Feahr, who lives in Northwood, said they handed over the remainder of what they owed, paying off the cremation bill in full.
Then, they waited. They called the funeral home and started to think they were getting the runaround.
“I had a really bad feeling. We kept asking, ‘Can we get in to see him?’ ” Ms. Feahr said.
Finally, word broke. The family learned their loved one was among the 11 bodies authorities said they discovered and removed Friday from the funeral home, where Toledo police were called to assist an Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors investigation and hold the mortuary as a crime scene.
Ms. Feahr said she called the board Thursday to report her concerns about the cremation delay.
“I just told them that it’s been too long. That he’s had the money, and it’s been almost two weeks,” she said.
Officials reported that some of the bodies had been embalmed, and all were supposed to be cremated. The body that had been at the mortuary the longest had been there since Jan. 8, said Dr. Diane Barnett, a Lucas County deputy coroner.
By late Saturday afternoon, she said all the bodies had been identified. The office had spoken to relatives of seven of the deceased and left messages for the others.
Now, family members must make arrangements to handle the bodies, she said.
A lawyer representing Tate said the funeral home will honor all cremation services. The owner of a local cremation service said he’ll offer free service to families involved with the Tate matter too.
The state board will hold a special meeting Tuesday regarding its investigation and the licensing status of the funeral home and the funeral director, Robert O. Tate, Jr.
Tate’s attorney, Richard Mitchell, issued a written statement Saturday that the mortuary had provided embalming in accordance with state law.
“Any delay in cremation resulted from physicians failing to timely provide death certificates, prohibiting cremation,” the statement read.
It also said that the people who initiated the recent complaint had previously complained about another funeral home they had selected first. Mr. Mitchell described the complaints made against Tate as “unreasonable and unfounded.”
In a phone interview, Mr. Mitchell declined to comment directly on Mr. Winkelman’s case but said the required death certificate was only received Thursday and that Tate had been “moving forward with the cremation.”
Relatives said they initially had Mr. Winkelman’s body taken to another funeral home after he died of congestive heart failure, but they transferred to Tate after calling around to find a more affordable price.
When they visited the mortuary to identify Mr. Winkelman they found preparations lacking. His body was underneath a printed covering, not a white sheet; his head rested on something that looked like Styrofoam, and his hair was messy and his beard overgrown, Ms. Feahr said.
She contends the funeral director had put off her repeated inquiries and provided multiple reasons for why the cremation hadn’t occurred.
Tate increased its price whenever the family brought in a payment, said her daughter-in-law, Ashle Feahr.
“Then he would hound us. Call us, call us, call us, call us for this money, and we finally got it all in, and then nothing,” Ashle Feahr said.
Mr. Mitchell’s statement said the mortuary has been in operation for more than 25 years and offers “substantially reduced fees for those in financial need.”
Dr. Barnett, meanwhile, said that if Tate had been having trouble getting doctors to provide death certificates, the funeral home should have complained to the Ohio State Medical Board.
The deputy coroner said proper handling of the bodies was her office’s only concern. Any legal violations, she said, would be up to Toledo police and the Ohio Board of Embalmers.
“It’s now a situation of the families choosing new arrangements — choosing new funeral homes, choosing a new cremation service, and moving on,” Dr. Barnett said.
Robert Scott, owner of Caring Cremation Services, said those whose deceased relatives’ bodies were removed from Tate could get cremations at no cost from his company once they were released from county custody.
“I’m not looking for an attaboy. I just can’t see myself saying, ‘I’m going to charge you another $700 for this,” he said.
Mr. Scott said he had performed cremation services for Tate until early January, when he stopped because the mortuary owed his firm $7,000.
Mr. Mitchell denied that, saying Caring Cremation is “trying to pull a fast one here and leverage an unfortunate situation to try to collect on a disputed debt.”
Mr. Mitchell said Tate stopped using Mr. Scott’s company because it was dissatisfied with its service.
Mr. Winkelman’s family is still reeling from the events of the last few days and from his death.
To Pam Feahr’s 17-year-old daughter, Tiffany, Mr. Winkelman was always caring, compassionate, and generous.
“He raised me, like, right alongside my mom,” she said. “It tore me up when he passed.”
His sister feels like they were fooled.
“It’s bad enough that he’s been gone a month and almost a half now, and now we’ve got to go through it all over again like it just happened,” Ms. Abshire said.