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PCR # 100 (Vol. 3, No. 8) This edition is for the week of February 18--24, 2002.

Deadguy's Dementia

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vault sign"I feel like I'm in a horror movie."

Anyone else catch the news about all them dead folks over in a city called Nobel in northwest, Georgia? Just in case no one noticed, there's a guy over there at "Tri-State Crematorium" that's found a new way to cut his operating costs. Unfortunately for him, it's illegal, but surprisingly, not as illegal as you might think.

About a month ago, some Georgian hikers told the authorities that they had found some human remains in the woods about a mile away from the crematorium. When they authorites arrived at the specified location, they did a thorough search, but no remains were found. The authorities apparently gave up, and wrote it off.

Noble, GeorgiaIt would now appear that the hikers may have indeed stumbled upon some human remains a bit closer to the crematorium, and were mistaken about it's location. I say this, because on Friday, February 15th, a lady was supposedly walking her dog past the place, and her dog managed to "uncover" a human skull.

I would imagine that the authorities decided to go investigate, and thought they'd go wander out behind the place, perhaps to go look around the a toolshed to the rear of the property, in the hopes of perhaps discovering the rest of the mystery body. They decided to do that on Saturday.

I would further imagine that a peculiar odor was noticed as they approached the shed, but when they finally reached the shed itself, the horror that was before them probably overwhelmed their senses. There, lying in a not-so-neat little pile behind the shed was apparently, not 1 body, not even 5 bodies, hell, not even 10 bodies. Can you imagine the magnitude of discovering 15 bodies piled-up behind a toolshed? Go stand in a crowd and pick out 15 random faces and imagine finding them dead and slowly rotting in a pile.

Corpses foundA pile of 15 bodies.. nope, now imagine twice that amount. 30, in various states of decay. That's an average class size for public schools. Imagine them in a pile. Now imagine 3 entire classrooms. That's 90 bodies. Doesn't it seem incredible that a guy could have piled 90 bodies behind his toolshed, and no one noticed until a certain little doggy walked past?

Truth is stranger than fiction, and it can also be more horrific too. Initial estimates of the body count was actually around 80 bodies, but that quickly grew to 200. That's approximately 5 city-bus loads discovered, assuming 40 passengers per bus.. or 8 short school buses, (this IS backwoods Georgia we're talking about), or better yet, a capacity-filled movie theater. Next time you go to the movies, take a look around and count seats. THEN imagine a corpse in each seat. THEN imagine various states of decay on corpses left outside from 10 days to 15 years. Ignore all the bugs though.. that's friggin' GROSS.

The estimate of 200 bodies was given shortly BEFORE 4 burial crypts were discovered on the site.

Some corpses were found in body bags, while others were dressed in clothing or hospital gowns or wrapped in sheets, said Kris Sperry, the state's chief medical examiner. Within hours, investigators had found three dozen corpses, some of them stacked next to tools in storage sheds.

Of the bodies found in the pile, and found in the toolshed, 19 were readily identified because they were still wearing toe-tags from the city morgue. Apparently, our business-savy crematorium owner wasn't a mass murderer, he'd just discovered that it was a LOT cheaper to stack a body out back rather than fire-up the furnace to 2000 degrees for 2 hours each time. However, some places just stack 5 bodies in the furnace and then just kinda' divide the combined ashes into 5 urns. that saves money too, but it places an extra burden on the furnace because it has to run at least twice as long. Of course if that information leaks to the press, folks get upset when they realize that they only have PART of a relative in an urn, and parts of the 4 other folks that got torched with them.

However, his method also saved him the effort of poking the thoroughly charred corpse to make it collapse and also the sifting process required which separates the ash, from the remaining non-exploded bone chunks which are then pulverized in order to be poured in an urn.

Now his method left a whole bunch of corpses to rot in the backyard. I talked to Nolan about this for a little bit on the phone, and we discussed whether or not these bodies would have been embalmed before cremation. If they were, then the rotting would have been delayed slightly, possibly to the point where chunks of flesh may have remained intact for up to a few months, due to the fact that the bugs probably didn't care much for the taste, and the bacteria had nothing it could easily feed on. This is speculation though, because I've been unable to locate any studies which describe the actual decay of an embalmed corpse that's been left out in the rain.

However, since most of these bodies most certainly include "State bodies" (unclaimed bodies, and/or people who couldn't afford any kind of funeral) then the bodies were unlikely to have been embalmed. These state bodies had, for the most part, various organs removed for scientific study, and/or organ donation, and had autopsy proceedures performed on them prior to delivery to the crematorium. I won't describe the state a body is left in after an autopsy, but suffice it to say that morticians aren't particularly concerned with appearances of corpses when they're done with them. If the body isn't slated for an open-viewing funeral, it's a hell of alot easier to slide down the face and remove the brain through the front of the skull than it is to carefully chop the top to avoid damaging the brain itself. Needless to say, the result is a bit horrific to those that aren't used to it, BEFORE it's laid outside to rot in the rain.

aerial viewNow, the unembalmed, non-autopsied bodies would have gone through normal decay stages fairly rapidly. First the bacteria that normally lives in the body and receives nourishment from the blood, is starved of its normal food supply, and begins to feed on the body itself, creating gases which bloat the organs and the entire body. Sort of a hungry stomach gone horribly out of control. The bloating give the face the appearance of the infamous "rictus grin". The bloating also pulls the skin away from its normal anchors. Next, the stomach ruptures from the build-up of gases, the skin blisters and oozes and the body begins to liquify. That's when the flies start showing up in force. Maggots, beetles, fungus etc, devour what's left of the body, and only very small bugs remain to pick-over the bones themselves. This takes a fairly short time, possibly a week or two, considering that the bodies weren't protected by anything outside, except other bodies piled on top of them.

I'd imagine that the long and short of it is that the pile would have looked like a horrific compost heap of decaying bodies at least 10 bodies "fresh" and mostly "intact" on the surface, and several "ripe" corpses just beneath them with a heap of bones beneath THAT, covered in the sloughing flesh and ooze from the bodies above. Again, this is mere speculation though. There are already websites claiming that they will have pictures availible on the web shortly, so an accurate description from me may be forthcoming, assuming I can keep down my lunch long enough (it would be in a separate link, I'm not going to surprise anyone with that kind of thing.)

Sheriff deputies that were interviewed have called this the most horrific thing they'd ever seen, which doesn't surprise me in the least, and actually makes me feel at least a little grateful. They've also been quoted as saying that it's like a scene from a horror movie.

Other people that have been interviewed included people that have had loved ones "cremated" at that crematorium. One teary-eyed woman simply held up an urn and said, "He told me my mother was in here, but what am I supposed to think now?" This comment was given to reporters BEFORE the FBI made the announcement that most of the urns given to grieving relatives contain powdered concrete, and/or traces of human ashes from other incinerations. It's ironic how the only ones that the Crematory burned were the folks that paid for its services (not real good for return business, ya' know?).

As the rescue operation entered its fourth day, residents in three states faced the heartbreak of planning funerals for loved ones they had long believed were resting in peace.

"I feel like I'm in a horror movie," said Leatha Shropshire, whose mother died on January 30 and was found dumped in the 16-acre area behind the crematorium.

Tuesday night, news coverage of the story included some breaking information stating updated body counts. As of this writing, 191 corpses have been retrieved from the piles, toolsheds, and burial crypts, but there's no determinate number on how many are left because the older bodies have been reduced to bone. Identification of the individual bodies are becoming increasingly difficult within the mismatched pile of bones that remain.

Yesterday, officials beleived the body count will easily surpass 200 bodies, and was expected to fall into the upper 200's. 29 bodies have now been positively identified.

Wednesday morning more news came out, from a semi-unreliable source. This source claims to be related to some on one of the clean-up crews. According to his brother, the owners had other properties that were now being investigated, and it's believed that the crematorium owner may have buried bodies in septic tanks. He also claims that the count of 200 is more than premature, it's ONE THIRD of the true expected body count total.

Today, Mr Sperry declined to speculate about how high the body count might go but the Walker County coroner said a survey of some funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama showed the crematorium probably handled at least 350 bodies from 1996 until February 15. However, some of the corpses discovered have been there for 15 years. The total of 350 bodies over the course of 6 years is at least an indication of slightly less than HALF the actual duration.

Now it's time to start considering how many bodies THREE movie theaters contain.

A short time later, in a press conference, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said his deputies were using a helicopter to survey other properties owned by the crematorium operator, Ray Marsh, and his family. Divers also plan to search a nearby lake.

Aerial photographs I saw of the scene showed about 6 police trailers visible around the parking lot of the crematorium with a lot of trees obscuring the rest of the property. I'm guessing that the trailers are probably mobile forensic labs for the corpse identification process that authorities have decided will happen onsite, rather than transporting the bodies from the site.

Ray Brent Marsh
Ray Brent Marsh
Ray Brent Marsh, 28, and his wife, the crematorium owners, had their house searched Tuesday morning and they found one badly decayed corpse in a coffin within a shallow grave in his backyard, and 5 more coffinless bodies nearby (some reports claim that there were more). Hmm.. I've heard of taking your work home with you, but your "nonwork" too?

When asked why he failed to cremate the remains, our witty crematorium owner stated that the furnace was broken. That's probably because he overtaxed it by burning 5 bodies at a time, but regardless, the furnace was busted, and perhaps was too expensive to repair even though the state and clients were paying him an average of $500 per body? So I guess he thought it was cool to go ahead and stack bodies outside FOR THE PAST 15 YEARS!? I guess he was saving them for when the furnace was repaired, right? That's a fair indication of sanity. C'mon, couldn't he have thought of something a little more compelling? Like environmental concerns about the impact of the human pollution he was unleashing through his smokestack? Or maybe even an epiphany where his dog told him that burning folks was bad?

Here's the clincher to this entire story. The owner of the crematorium is going to court, and is likely to go to jail. You knew that, right? But what are the charges? 16 counts of "theft through deception". I don't know what kind of sentence that carries, but apparently Georgia doesn't have any laws that govern over what happens BEFORE a body is buried. The 16 counts of "theft through deception" are basically one count for each positively identified body at the time the charges were filed. Each count descibes the fact that he accepted money in return for cremating each of those individual bodies without actually cremating anyone. Earlier today, the charges were only 5 counts, and then 10 as more charges were levied against him, so obviously this number will continue to climb as more charges are given. The laws require that specific victims of a crime must be identified in order to prove that a crime was committed. ("no body, no murder", etc)

When he was originally arrested on Saturday, he was only charged with 5 counts and was released from jail after posting $25,000 bond. He was arrested again on Sunday night with 5 MORE counts and was denied bail.

This man has touched a lot of lives, including not only the heartbroken relatives dreading news of positive identifications, but also the people that have to clean up this mess, and/or have heard about this incident and begun wondering about the possible treatment of loved ones long gone, or even concerned with their own mortality and the treatment they themselves will receive when they've died.

Me, I think it's important to keep the entire issue of death in its proper perspective, and I would be remiss if I didn't offer this quote to anyone who is concerned about it after an article like this one:

Mike Montaigne (1533 - 1592):"...Dying would be such a minor thing if we weren't so afraid of it. Our fear of pain is natural, but not our fear of death. Death and life are both essential to our being... If you don't worry about where you were before you were born, why do you worry about what happens after you die?"   Of course, those that are more religious than I am will be quick to explain their own beliefs about the afterlife, etc., and I certainly encourage folks to have something to believe in. However, for those that find belief in an afterlife to be a bit elusive, then try to remember that regardless of the religion, there is always reference to the possibility of a wonderful afterlife or rebirth of some kind.

If you are even more scientifically grounded, then you'd do well to remember that it's been scientifically proven that energy, once created, cannot be destroyed, it must always change form.

alternate aerial viewIn a nutshell, "it's all good." When I die, I'm not only an organ donor, I also plan to be cremated (and pre-pay for a witty tombstone, I hope!). This story hasn't changed my mind about that. I can't get a tombstone without at least PART of me being officially buried (unless of course I die spectacularly and my corpse can't be found), and a cremation is the cheapest way to go. If I get thrown into a pile somewhere, what do I care, I'll be done with this body by that point anyways. Assuming money wasn't an object (which is bullshit considering that SOMEONE will make use of whatever funds I leave behind) I'd go ahead and be buried in a cardboard coffin (in another state so that they won't have to put me in a state-required stone sarcophagus enclosure) and let the earth have whatever it wants of me. After all, I definitely took what I wanted from the earth, and it only seems polite to feed it for the next guy.

You know what's kind of weird though? As I was writing the above paragraph, I suddenly realized that if I was thrown into a stack when I'm dead, I could care less, but if it ever happened to my fiancé, and I caught wind of it, I'd be traumatized for life. Odd how that works, isn't it?

"Deadguy's Dementia" is ©2002 by Mike "Deadguy" Scott.  Webpage design by Nolan B. Canova.  The "Deadguy's Dementia" header graphic and background tile are creations of Mike Scott.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.