Mo. funeral home under scrutiny remains closed

Monday, August 25, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A central Missouri funeral home under investigation for allegedly mishandling bodies will remain indefinitely closed as the state's inquiry continues.

Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane agreed Monday to keep the Warren Funeral Chapel shut down until the business can comply with state law. The next hearing is set for Nov. 3.

The Missouri attorney general's office sued the funeral home in late July after state inspectors reportedly found a decaying woman's body stored in an electrical room for 10 months without being embalmed or refrigerated. Inspectors also found a garbage bag filled with organs in the funeral home's basement

Seven more decaying bodies were found a week later, and several families have said that cremated ashes they received were not the remains of their loved ones or that bodies were embalmed rather than cremated, as required by contract.

The funeral home, which operates in both Columbia and Fulton, initially agreed to remain closed for 15 days. A temporary injunction was later extended indefinitely.

In a brief court hearing Monday, funeral home attorney Dan Viets told the judge, "We do think we're near having the matter resolved."

In interviews after the hearing, both Viets and Assistant Attorney General Peter Lyskowski declined to specify the remaining points of contention or say whether funeral home owners Harold Warren Sr. and his son, Harold Warren Jr., expect to remain in business.

"I really don't know whether the Warren funeral home is going to operate," Viets said.

Aside from the state investigation, Warren and his son have a recent history of financial trouble that includes an attempt to declare bankruptcy in 2006. The business also defaulted on several debts in recent years.

The senior Warren was Columbia's first black City Council member when he served more than three decades ago. The state investigation has created a fissure in the city's black community, with the Warrens receiving support from the state and local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and outrage from many of the business' longtime loyal customers.

The funeral home also faces a lawsuit by a woman who accuses the Warrens of negligently handling her 85-year-old mother's remains.

Both Warrens have consistently declined interview requests.

Viets has suggested the father and son were as much victims of their own desire to help community members, even if it meant cutting corners and accepting business from those who had financial difficulties.

Up to 30 sets of cremated ashes have been seized from the business, and Viets on Monday pointed to a recent Associated Press article that said storage or disposal of ashes is a growing national problem.

"Virtually every funeral home in America has unclaimed ashes," Viets told reporters. "It's very common. It's the rule, not the exception."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: