Tennessee scandalized by undertaker's burials

SPRINGFIELD, Tenn. -- Law officers put a jailed undertaker into an isolation cell for protection from inmates and families enraged by charges that he buried their loved ones without coffins, then threw trash into their graves.

Investigators made a public appeal for calm Thursday as two more graves were opened in the investigation into burials by Bobby Wilks, who is charged with fraud. Ministers began counseling family members who entrusted their relatives in the mortician's care.


The graves opened Thursday brought to 25 the number uncovered in Tennessee and Kentucky since the scandal began two weeks ago. Investigators have permits to open eight more graves.

Family members have wailed in grief and outrage as they discovered trash in the graves of their relatives, who were buried without coffins or vaults to protect the caskets in the ground.

'I could very easily have him killed. All it would take is one phone call,' Mary Masterson said as the grave of her mother, Gladys Birdwell Clubbs, was opened to reveal two soft drink bottles with the corpse. 'She's not a garbage disposal.'

One body was found wrapped only in a rug, and the remains of a stillborn girl were found buried about a foot deep in a blue plastic bag. Officials said Wilks promised the bereaved family that he would bury their child in a coffin.


Wilks, 52, who owns Barber's Funeral Home in the community of Milldale near Springfield, is jailed under $90,000 bond in Robertson County on charges of obtaining money under false pretenses.

Sheriff's officials said they put Wilks in an isolation cell because of fears his life is threatened by family members or inmates who are related to those he buried.

'They should leave this up to the law and let our justice system handle it,' sheriff's detective Ed Nicholson said.

Friends of Wilks have said he was a 'champion of the poor' and often charged nothing to bury people. They said he may have tried to make up the cost by burying others without coffins after their families left the gravesites. Investigators said they have no idea why he threw trash into graves.

The state Funeral Directors and Embalmers Board took its first action against Wilks Thursday, accusing him of 'abhorrent acts' and suspending his mortician's license.

Also Thursday, a special state commission recommended that the Legislature pass a law carrying a punishment of up to 5 years in prison for mistreating a corpse.

Families filed a class-action suit against Wilks Wednesday seeking $15 millionfor fraud, breach of contract and 'outrageous conduct.'


The scandal surfaced after the family of Danny Wayne Pitt, who died Oct. 4, watched from a church window as Wilks buried him without a vault. After the survivors left the grave, Wilks 'picked up several discarded flowerpots and tossed them into the grave on top of the casket,' said Wade Smith, a funeral board investigator.

Wilks checked into a Nashville hospital for psychiatric treatment after charges first were placed against him Oct. 7. He was arrested when he was released the next week.

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