Detroit funeral homes: concern grows over discovery of foetuses

Discoveries at apparently unrelated homes may lead to wider investigation

Perry Funeral Home in Detroit, where 63 foetuses were found at a funeral home in Detroit on Friday

Perry Funeral Home in Detroit, where 63 foetuses were found at a funeral home in Detroit on Friday

 

The remains of 63 infants or foetuses were found at a funeral home in Detroit on Friday, the Detroit Police Department said. The discovery came amid an expanding investigation, one week after officials found the decomposed remains of 11 infants or foetuses at another – apparently unrelated – funeral home in Detroit. The discoveries have raised concerns about the handling and disposal of human remains by the city’s funeral homes, especially in cases of stillbirth.

On Friday, the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs found “heinous conditions and negligent conduct” at the Perry Funeral Home. State officials said on Saturday that they had removed 37 remains from boxes and 26 from a freezer. Some of the human remains there were found to be years old.

In an emailed statement, the department said the Perry Funeral Home may have committed criminal violations by failing to properly dispose of bodies or to facilitate their final dispositions, such as burial or cremation, in accordance with state laws. The business was shuttered on Friday and its licence was suspended.

Joshua Arnkoff, a lawyer representing the funeral home, said in a statement on Saturday that it had not committed any criminal offences. The remains were unclaimed by parents, the statement said, and the funeral home did not have the legal authority to conduct a final disposition – such as a burial or cremation – of those remains.

The discovery was prompted in part by a lawsuit filed in July by a woman whose daughter, Alayah Laniece Davis, died shortly after she was born in a hospital in December 2014. At the time, the mother said the body should be given to Wayne State University Medical School for research or educational purposes, the lawsuit said.

Instead, the remains ended up in the custody of Perry Funeral Home and may have been stored at the Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science for years without the mother’s knowledge, according to the lawsuit, which also named the university and the hospital where the baby was born as defendants.

Multiple layers

The lawsuit said the funeral home indicated, on a certificate of death, that the infant’s remains had been buried in a cemetery, even though they remained at the mortuary. All of this happened over a period of years without the mother’s knowledge, the lawsuit added.

“We’ve got multiple layers of potentially criminal activity by Perry Funeral Home, lack of supervision on the part of the mortuary science programme and gross negligence on the part of the hospital,” said Peter Parks, a lawyer for the mother. The statement from the funeral home’s lawyer said Perry was not involved with the body-donation programme. “Perry Funeral Home received these remains from local hospitals who had indicated to Perry that the remains were ‘unclaimed’ by the parents,” it said. “In other words, the hospitals had informed Perry that the hospitals had reached out to the parents by certified mail and/or by phone, and the families did not respond. We do not believe that any of these remains involve families that paid Perry for funeral services.”

In a statement emailed Friday, Wayne State University said it had become aware of the lawsuit only recently. “Without offering an opinion on the lawsuit itself, we believe the claim against the university is baseless and we will be moving soon to dismiss it,” it added.

Hidden in ceiling

A spokeswoman for the Detroit Medical Center, where Alayah was born, could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday but told the Detroit News that it was against its policy to discuss pending litigation. On October 12th, news broke that infants’ remains had been found hidden in the ceiling of another funeral home – the Cantrell Funeral Home, which had been shuttered in April. The news reached Alayah’s family, which encouraged Parks to share their concerns about Perry Funeral Home with the police, which he did.

In a news conference on Friday, Chief James Craig of the Detroit Police Department said the two funeral homes did not appear to be connected, and that officials may form a task force to investigate how human remains are stored and documented in the area. “This is larger than we might know,” he said.

Daniel Cieslak, another lawyer representing Alayah’s mother, said in an interview on Friday that based on documents he had seen while investigating this case, there could be hundreds of foetuses’ remains in the custody of Perry Funeral Home. “I’m glad they recovered that many,” he said after investigators found dozens of them on Friday. “But it seems to me that there could be more.”

Cieslak and Parks hope to turn the mother’s complaint into a class-action lawsuit. Craig called the situation “very, very disturbing” and said state officials could be called upon to help with a wider investigation. “There’s a lot that has happened in the last 24 hours,” Cieslak said, adding that he was glad officials had investigated the Perry Funeral Home. “But it’s raising more questions for me now.” – New York Times