Body count 'growing by the hour'

NOBLE, Ga., Feb. 18 (UPI) -- The operator of a Georgia crematorium was arrested a second time on Monday as authorities recovered and identified more bodies and human remains improperly stored inside buildings or scattered in adjacent woods.

Four sealed vaults at the Tri-State Crematory were opened on Monday. They were filled with bodies and remains, some so badly decomposed that authorities fear they may never be identified.


"I can't even begin to guess at how many bodies may be in those in total. It's just incomprehensible," said Dr. Kris Sperry, chief medical examiner for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"The volume of what we're finding is just growing by the hour," he said.

By Monday afternoon, 130 bodies or partial remains had been recovered and 22 had been identified at the crematorium's 16-acre site about 90 miles northwest of Atlanta. Some of the bodies may have been on the grounds for as long as 20 years.

Additional charges were filed Monday against crematorium operator Brent Marsh, who was free on $25,000 bond after his arrest on Sunday on charges of accepting payments for cremations that were never performed.


"He's been charged with 11 additional counts of theft by deception. That brings the total of counts now to 16 since Saturday," Walker County District Attorney Buzz Franklin Jr. said.

A hearing for Marsh scheduled on Monday was postponed indefinitely because he did not have an attorney. "If he is released on bond again, there is a great possibility he will be re-arrested again," Franklin said.

As investigators examine ashes brought to them by distraught people whose relatives were supposed to have been cremated, some families are learning that the ashes they have treasured for years are not the remains of their relatives.

"We have examined 51 so far. Of those 51, we found 9 that are not of human origin," Sperry said.

"What was represented as human remains was actually powdered cement," he said.

Officials said they expect to eventually find hundreds of bodies in sheds, underground storage vaults, and woods surrounding the crematorium. A nearly lake is also being searched.

"We're continuing to examine all the wooded areas. We have not really begun seriously excavating certain areas that are of interest to us," Sperry said.

The grisly discovery was expected to prompt Georgia's legislature to act swiftly to pass legislation that would require inspections of crematoriums that deal directly with funeral homes.


State representative Mike Snow of nearby Chickamauga said a "glitch in the law" allows funeral homes to use crematories that have not been licensed or inspected.

It was unclear why the bodies had been improperly disposed of in what Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson called "a national tragedy." Investigators said they were told that the crematorium no longer functioned properly.

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