Community Shattered After Bodies Found At Crematory

By BILL POOVEY, Associated Press Writer

NOBLE, Ga. (AP) - The operator of a north Georgia crematory where dozens of corpses were found was arrested for a second time and charged with 11 more counts of theft by deception, authorities said Monday.

Ray Brent Marsh, 28, had been arrested Saturday and released from jail Sunday after posting $25,000 bond on five original charges of theft by deception. He was arrested again Sunday night.

Calls to Marsh (pictured, above) and the crematory went unanswered Monday; voicemail boxes at both numbers were full.

Walker County chief magistrate Jerry Day said a bond hearing for Marsh would likely take place Tuesday. It had been scheduled for Monday until court officials learned Marsh did not yet have an attorney, Day said.

Authorities returned on Monday to grounds near the Tri-State Crematory, where they had recovered 97 bodies stacked in storage sheds and discarded in woods.

Officials have said they expect to find as many as 200 bodies at the crematory, including some that had likely been decomposing for up to 15 years.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said authorities were asking relatives of people whose bodies had been sent to the crematory for any information that might help identify their loved ones, including surgical scars and dental records.

He said investigators were continuing the search, "bagging and tagging" the bodies as they find them.

Like hundreds of residents in this hamlet, Lisa Cash can't understand how anyone could leave her mother's body to rot alongside piles of other human remains.

Cash's mother, Norma Hutton, 55, died Dec. 31 of kidney failure. Based on her deceased mother's wishes, Cash asked for the remains to be cremated. They weren't.

Now Cash must try to reconcile for her kids the newly uncovered body of their grandmother with the urn that they were told contained her remains.

"They don't understand. How can granny be there and here too?" Cash said of her four children, ages 13, 12, 11 and 8. "I explained: 'Somebody lied.'"

Investigators said Marsh told them the bodies were not cremated because the incinerator was broken.

"They just piled them on top and then piled more on top. And then they just left them," said Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia's chief medical examiner. "I wish we had a good explanation for this, but we don't."

Authorities said they recovered 97 bodies -- including one infant -- from storage sheds and in the woods behind the crematory. Sixteen have been identified.

"We're just barely skimming the surface," Sperry said. "Some of the remains are mummified."

Between 25 and 30 funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama routinely sent bodies to Tri-State for cremation.

One day after declaring a state of emergency to provide financial assistance to help identify remains, Gov. Roy Barnes visited Noble and met privately Sunday with about 100 people who believed their loved ones were at the crematory.

"They are mad," Barnes said. "They are angry. I would be upset too. "They thought they had closure on the death of a loved one and they do not."

Georgia Emergency Management director Gary McConnell said the state would pay the cost of identifying the bodies. There are two crematory inspectors in Georgia, said McConnell.

He said only crematories that deal directly with the public have to be inspected, and that Tri-State was never inspected because it worked only with funeral homes.

Officials denied reporters access to the 16-acre tract but photographers who flew over the area about 25 miles south of Chattanooga said they could see lines of white body bags.

"I have no idea how this happened," Samuel Marsh, who is Marsh's brother, said in a telephone interview Sunday. "It's just crazy to me."

The crematory owners, Ray and Clara Marsh, turned the business over to their son Ray Brent Marsh in 1996. The couple has turned over company records to authorities and were cooperating, Walker County chief deputy Hill Morrison said.

Families on Sunday completed Red Cross paperwork to help identify the bodies and several dentists opened their offices to make dental records available. Counselors also were on hand.

Authorities are asking families to return ashes for testing.

Officials suspect ashes from wood chips were provided to funeral home customers instead of the remains of loved ones.

Gwendolyn Walton, of Chattanooga, Tenn., carried a silver-colored plastic urn as she walked to the Walker County Civic Center with her two adult sons Sunday. The urn is supposed to contain the cremated remains of her husband, the Rev. Robert G.

Walton, who died Nov. 2 from heart failure.

"In my heart after hearing about this situation, I really didn't want to pass judgment," said one of the sons, Terrance Walton. "I just need to find out if this is my father's remains."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)