News 12 at 6 o'clock, November 24, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga -- Losing a family member to death is heartbreaking enough, but imagine if the funeral home you've trusted to handle the services has lost your loved ones ashes.
In a 12 On Your Side Exclusive investigation, Lynnsey Gardner sits down with two families with two similar stories of lost ashes and one funeral home at the center of it all.
Tonight we hear from Velma Harmon who say it's happened to her family. And from Sharon Mitchell who says she's gone almost two years now not knowing what happened to her brother's ashes.
"All the time.." Fighting back tears, Velma Harmon says she is haunted by one question- what happened to the remains of her sister Sarah Jackson? "I just want closure (sniff) You know. If I can get her ashes, I'll be through."
Closure she says only Dent's Undertaking Establishment can give her.
They handled Sarah's funeral, she died in April and her death certificate says she was cremated two days later. Now, nearly seven months have passed and Velma still does not have Sarah's remains.
"Just not knowing what happened? Why can't you give it to me if they have it? Why would they want to hold it?" And it seems Velma is not alone.
"Still waiting..still waiting to this day." Sharon Mitchell says her brother Terris Mitchell died in January of 2007 and now, almost two years later, she still does not have his ashes.
Gardner, "So right now, do you have any idea if your brother was cremated or not?"
Mitchell, "Have no idea. Don't know where the remains are or nothing. Every time we call the funeral home they say the body was on back order."
More questions News 12 is now asking Dent's Undertaking Establishment after we began our investigation in October. You may remember the Gowdy family, they called 12 On Your Side because of the condition they found 74-year-old Joshua Gowdy's body in at his viewing.
Mr. Gowdy had died of a heart attack in his sleep. The question was Mr. Gowdy embalmed properly or ever embalmed at all?
Franklin Dunn is Mr. Gowdy's stepson. "We shouldn't have to go in and smell our father and see him bleeding out the ear. He wasn't in no wreck., he shouldn't be bleeding out the nose and ear."
They took pictures and we showed them to Richmond County Coroner Grover Tuten. "He's somebody that has been abused. Easiest way I can put it, that body has been abused."
Our first report asking just what happened to Joshua Gowdy sparked an investigation by the Georgia State Board of Funeral Services. But back in Augusta, Frank Griffin who identified himself as the owner, repeatedly refused to speak to News 12.
Gardner to Griffin, "Do you have anything to say about the State investigating you now?"
Joshua Gowdy's family had an empty casket funeral for him because of the smell. Now, the Gowdy family has buried him, but not the pain.
Velma Harmon may not know the Gowdy's, but she is familiar with their agony. "Yes, I know how they feel. Same way I feel."
News 12 called Dent's to find out what happened to Velma's sister Sarah. "Just tell him I want my sister's remains. Why hadn't they brought it to me? Why would you want to hold them from me like that?"
Frank Griffin would not answer our questions on camera but this time off camera, he told us Sarah Jackson's remains were confiscated by the Georgia Department of Revenue in July.
So News 12 called the Georgia Department of Revenue and spoke with their spokesperson, Charles Willey.
Gardner to Willey, "Is that true?"
Charles Willey "That is not true. We did not confiscate any ashes or remains of anyone in the establishment."
Gardner, "So you stand by it that you absolutely do not have Sarah Jackson's remains?"
Willey, "That is correct."
For Velma it's another closed door. "If they don't have it, just tell me. Just tell me what happened so i can have some closure in my heart."
And Sharon, remember she's been waiting almost two years for her brother Terris' ashes.
"It's been so long..." Until now.
Gardner, "Did you believe this day was going to happen?"
Sharon Mitchell " No, you can only dream about a day like this coming but as far as it coming, I don't think it would've been possible without you guys."
12 On Your Side goes to work and gets life-changing results for Sharon. Find out exactly what happened. Plus, a paper trail that may show owner Frank Griffin broke the law, time and time again.
See it for yourself tomorrow, November 25, 2008, on News 12 at 6 o'clock.