SAN FRANCISCO -- Cash distributions totaling $8.2 million were paid Friday to more than 1,000 relatives of people whose cremated remains were 'unceremoniously dumped' in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The law firm of Melvin Belli, which represented lawsuits against more than 90 Northern California funeral homes, mortuaries and crematoriums in the so-called Neptune Society cases, said the amount each aggrieved relative received was calculated by computer.
Superior Court Judge James Ford of Sacramento signed an order allowing dispersal of cash collected in a $32 million settlement reached last March after a lengthy trial involving 5,000 cases.
The Neptune Society, one of the defendants in the case, settled in 1986 for $16.5 million.
The bizarre case began with the 1984 discovery of a 15-foot-long, 2-foot-high pile of cremated human and animal remains dumped on the property of B.J. Elkin in a rural area of Amador County in the Sierra foothills.
Elkin, a retired Southern Pacific Railroad conductor, operated a human remains disposal business called Elkcam Air Services out of his home in Santa Clara that serviced most of the funeral homes in Northern California.
For 10 years, from 1974 to 1984, Elkin claimed to have disposed of the cremated remains of 5,000 people by scattering their ashes over scenic spots in the Sierra from a specially equipped airplane.
'He was supposed to disseminate the ashes individually and respectfully, but instead he just took out the canisters and dumped them unceremoniously from his vehicle,' lawyer Richard Brown of the Belli firm said.
'He would send the families a card with a picture and indicate he had scattered the ashes at a particular location, but instead he was dumping them in his backyard,' Brown said.
Many of the relatives were so grief-stricken after learning the fate of their loved ones they had to be hospitalized or undergo psychological care, Brown said.
'They had planned to be scattered in a similar location as their spouses and now they can never really join them in any meaningful way in the hereafter,' he said.
'A lot of the (deceased) were suicide or murder victims and their families had to relive this terrifying or upsetting incident. They thought they had given rest to them, then years later found out they hadn't been properly taken care of,' Brown said.
The plot of land where the remains were discovered may be designated a nature conservancy to protect its natural state, and the ashes, which are under court authority, are expected to be buried at a suitable cemetery in the Sierra, Brown said.
Belli's law firm represented 1,021 relatives of people whose remains were dumped by Elkin. The firm filed a class-action suit representing all 5,000 people disposed of on the property and naming 140 individual defendants in nine counties.
In the $32 million settlement, 1,800 people, including the 1,021 represented by Belli and 779 other people represented by 48 different lawyers, are entitled to half the money -- $16 million. The other half will be distributed among the remaining 3,200 relatives in the class action suit, Brown said.
Elkin was convicted of three misdemeanors for violating state health and safety codes against co-mingling human remains and has appealed, Brown said.