Shuttered WV funeral home mixed up bodies, family says in lawsuit
A woman is suing a now-shuttered Charleston funeral home, after the body of her deceased mother was mixed-up with another woman’s remains, displayed during that woman’s open-casket funeral service and then buried in the grave meant for that woman.
Margaret Bowles, the daughter of Madeline Hope Yost, filed the lawsuit last Friday in Kanawha County Circuit Court against Bartlett-Burdette-Cox Funeral Home. The business, which closed at the end of May and was located at 513 Tennessee Ave., on Charleston’s West Side, was owned by Service Corporation International. SCI and the cemetery, Cunningham Memorial Park in St. Albans, also are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Bowles alleges the negligence of funeral home and cemetery employees caused her family emotional distress, after her mother’s death, earlier this year.
Last year, Bowles entered into a pre-need funeral contract with the funeral home on behalf of her mother. Yost was adamant about having a closed-casket funeral because of her experience watching autopsies while a nursing student, according to the lawsuit. She didn’t want her dead body being the last memory her friends and family had of her.
After a battle with dementia, Yost died on Jan. 15, according to the lawsuit.
Funeral home director, W. Keith Garren, assured Bowles that her mother would have the closed-casket funeral she wanted, the lawsuit states. Yost’s funeral was scheduled for Jan. 21. She was to be buried the next day beside her husband, who was a veteran, at the West Virginia National Cemetery.
“However, due to the egregious actions of BBC Funeral Home, none of the pre-arranged funeral plans for Ms. Yost were carried out,” the lawsuit states. “Indeed, everything with regard to Ms. Yost’s funeral and burial went horribly wrong.”
An email and call to Service Corporation International, headquartered in Houston, weren’t returned Monday. Garren couldn’t immediately be reached for comment and no one from the cemetery returned a phone call.
John Cox, 86, according to previous Gazette-Mail reports, owned Bartlett-Burdette-Cox from 1976 to 1996 before selling it to Stewart Enterprises Inc., which later was acquired by Service Corporation International. Cox continued to work at the funeral home until it closed earlier this year.
Charleston lawyer Russell Williams, who represents Bowles, said he was shocked after hearing Bowles describe what happened to her mother’s remains.
“I was horrified that somebody, someone’s loved one would be treated in such a careless way,” Williams said Monday.
Two days before Yost’s funeral was to be held. Garren was preparing to hold a funeral for Margaret Fraser. Garren, though, failed to look at the identification tag on Yost’s body and placed her remains in Fraser’s casket. A sworn statement from Garren is attached to the complaint.
Yost’s body was displayed during the open-casket funeral service meant for Fraser. According to the lawsuit, a number of Fraser’s family members complained to employees of the funeral home that the body in the casket didn’t look like Fraser.
“Nevertheless, [funeral home] staff members told Ms. Fraser’s family that the body was in fact their loved one and that the lack of resemblance was due to the embalming process,” the complaint states.
“We now know that the body was in fact Ms. Yost and not Ms. Fraser.”
Yost’s body was then taken to Cunningham Memorial Park cemetery and buried in the below-ground grave that was meant for Fraser, according to the lawsuit.
It was the next day, when Garren was preparing for Yost’s funeral, that he realized what happened, the complaint states.
“At that point, the horrible truth was realized: Defendants had wrongfully displayed the body of Ms. Yost at Ms. Fraser’s funeral and then buried her in Ms. Fraser’s grave,” the complaint states.
Garren called Bowles and explained there had been a mistake and that her mother’s body had been mixed up with another woman’s remains. He had Bowles sign an order to exhume her mother’s body.
Fraser’s family also is being represented by Pritt& Spano, PLLC, but they haven’t yet filed a lawsuit.