Investigators to drain crematory lake; body count at 206

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Associated Press WriterNOBLE, Ga. (AP) -- After discovering a skull and torso in the water, investigators said Wednesday they plan to drain a lake near a crematory where scores of corpses have been found. They raised the body count to 206.

The full recovery effort at Tri-State Crematory could take eight months, said Gary McConnell, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. Only 35 bodies have been positively identified so far.

Officials were trying to figure out how to drain the lake and dispose of the water but said divers probably would not be needed. They decided to drain the lake after finding a torso and skull in the water about 20 yards from the bank, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said.

Meanwhile, agents began opening vaults at the crematorium and braced for the discovery of more corpses, saying the body count could rise to 300 or more.

Georgia medical examiner Dr. Kris Sperry said the six vaults each could hold as many as 20 corpses. The vaults are in a shed on the Tri-State Crematory grounds, where investigators had already recovered 191 bodies.

Sperry said he expected the vault excavation to be complete by day's end.

The operator of the crematorium, 28-year-old Ray Brent Marsh, remained in jail, charged with 16 counts of theft by deception for allegedly taking payment for cremations he never performed.

A bond hearing remained postponed because Marsh does not yet have an attorney.

On Sunday, Marsh was released from jail on five original theft counts. He was arrested again that night and charged with 11 more counts. Some law enforcement officials have said Marsh may be safer in jail.

In private meetings of families, some had been demanding to know where Marsh was while he was out of jail, said Rusty Cash of Chattanooga, Tenn., whose mother-in-law died Dec. 31 and was among the bodies taken to Tri-State.

"It's obvious some people want to find him," Cash said.

Tom Shaw, who drove from St. Joseph, Mo., to this rural town near Chattanooga after his mother's body was found, said Marsh "deserves to be put to death and then thrown out in a barn."

"He's lucky I was so far away when I first found out, because I was hot," Shaw said at a candlelight vigil held Tuesday night at Oakwood Baptist Church in nearby Chickamauga.

Families continued turning over medical records and supposed ashes to help officials identify their relatives. Of 130 sets of ashes turned over so far, one was filled with dirt, 15 were at least partly filled with concrete dust and others contained potting soil, Sperry said.

Six bodies were found Tuesday at a second location about 150 yards behind Marsh's home. Investigators were questioning people who may have worked at the crematory.

Two lawsuits alleging fraud have been filed against the Tri-State Crematory and at least one of the funeral homes that sent bodies there. An attorney in one of the cases said he was seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which accuses intentional mishandling of corpses.

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