NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Bereaved families tearfully told the state Funeral Board Thursday how undertaker Bobby Wilks betrayed their trust by taking their money and burying loved ones without caskets or vaults in garbage-strewn graves.
The board revoked Wilks' funeral director's license Thursday and fined him $6,000. The jailed Robertson County mortician also faces criminal charges stemming from an investigation in which 30 graves were opened.
Donald Flatt said he hid in a church and watched as Wilks buried a relative without the vault his family had purchased. He said when the grave of Danny Ray Pith was exhumed, authorities found dirty diapers, an apple core, dog food cans and a vacuum cleaner bag full of dirt in the casket along with the body.
Flatt said following the gruesome discovery, he also had his mother's grave opened because she had been buried by Wilks too. He said his mother's possessions had been sold at an auction so he could deliver a cigar box full of money to Wilks to pay for her funeral, including a vault for the casket.
What authorities and the family found when the grave was exhumed that his mother, Lena, had been buried in a broken casket that was partially opened and there was no vault. He said his mother's wristwatch was missing from her arm.
Flatt described the opening of his mother's grave as the most horrible experience of his life. Flatt and his brother told the board they had grown up with Wilks, rode horses together as boys and trusted the Robertson County undertaker.
'I never suspicioned anything. I trusted Bobby,' Flatt's brother, Bobby, said. 'We grew up together. I didn't want to find anything wrong.'
Board member Robert Shackleford said Wilks' actions were 'totally reprehensible.' In a joint statement, the board said testimony showed a 'clear pattern of villainous desecration of graves and human remains.' The statement said his 'shameful acts were almost unspeakable.'
Witnesses told the board that Wilks asked families to leave gravesites before caskets were lowered into the ground. The Flatt family hid in a church Sunday school room and watched as Wilks took the vault they had purchased and put it back in his hearse and drove away. Their relative was buried with just a coffin.
Donald Flatt said he 'could have spit on him' from the window where he watched Wilks reclaim the vault.
A tearful Helen Roath said she had known Wilks for 25 years when she asked him to bury her husband. She paid the undertaker $3,000, she said, and then received another bill for $950. Later, when his body was exhumed, she discovered that her husband was buried without a coffin or vault.
'I couldn't sleep at night,' she testified.
Mortician Al Jessie of Robertson County told the board he had exhumed several of the graves and could not believe what he saw. He said graves were filled with trash and Lena Flatt was buried just 18 inches deep.
'It appeared to me her casket was just shoved off the edge,' he said.
Jessie said he knew Wilks and considered his funeral home a 'shotgun happy-go-lucky operation.' He said Wilks once transported a body in the back of a Volkswagen bus because he said the weather was too bad to drive his hearse.
Criminal prosecutors in Sumner County said Wilks may be tried there in January. The undertaker also is charged with fraud in Robertson County.