12 Years Later, Crematory Case Defendant Released From Prison

On June 29, 2016, former crematory owner Brent Marsh was released from prison after serving his full 12 year sentence.

In February 2002, the nation was shocked by news that hundreds of dead bodies were found rotting in the woods of North Georgia on the rural premises of an unlicensed crematory–the Tri-State Crematory.

David Randolph Smith filed the first crematory case as a class action and went on to prosecute the case in both federal and state court.

Ultimately, litigation in the crematory case concluded with a successful settlement of $36M against the funeral homes that used the Tri-State Crematory and a $3.5 million settlement against Georgia Farm Bureau.

Here is a story from the Associated Press in February 2002 from Online Athens:

Caskets discovered on grounds

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002
By Bill Poovey
Associated Press

NOBLE — The search for dumped corpses in woods around a broken-down crematory took a macabre new turn Tuesday when investigators found human remains in caskets that had been previously buried elsewhere  Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Buddy Nix said 191 bodies had been recovered so far on the 16 acres of woodlands around the Tri-State Crematory. Kris Sperry, the state’s chief medical examiner, said 29 bodies had been positively identified.
Sperry said he had examined another 79 sets of cremated remains returned by families of people whose funeral homes were customers of the crematory. He said one of the containers was filled with dirt and seven others were at least partially filled with concrete dust.

Sperry said there was no known explanation for bodies in ”six or seven” caskets on the property that had been previously buried elsewhere. Nix said searchers found a body in a casket about 100 yards behind the house on the property Tuesday and began digging in a nearby mound of dirt. He said they found five bodies not in caskets, and a search at that site was continuing.
”Some of the family members have told me their loved ones asked to be cremated because they were frightfully afraid of being buried or frightfully afraid of insects,” Nix said.
Marsh remained in jail Tuesday on 16 charges of theft by deception for not cremating scores of bodies at his northwest Georgia crematory, located about 20 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn. A bond hearing has been delayed while Marsh tries to hire an attorney.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said his deputies were using a helicopter to survey other properties owned by the Marsh family. Authorities also have said they plan to have divers search a lake at the back of the property.
A federal disaster mortuary operations team arrived and set up a temporary morgue late Monday.An evening candlelight service for affected families was set at a nearby Baptist church and authorities said they were continuing to receive information from families.

Although investigators have said the oldest records found at the 20-year-old crematory were for October, Walker County coroner Dewayne Wilson said a survey of some funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama that used Tri State showed the crematory likely handled at least 350 bodies from 1996 until Feb. 15.
Marsh took over management of the crematory in 1996 from his parents, Ray and Clara Marsh. The elder Marshes have not been charged, but authorities said bodies were being dumped before the son took over.
Investigators have said Brent Marsh told them the bodies were not cremated because the incinerator was broken. Authorities said they were unsure how long the incinerator was broken, but evidence shows some dumped bodies have been there for 15 years or more.

Sheriff Wilson again said he could not explain how bodies could be tossed around in the woods for years behind the crematory in a residential neighborhood without being detected.
The sheriff described the family as ”good folks. I don’t know what went wrong.”
Relatives of Doris Mae Tierney of Cleveland, Tenn., whose body was sent to Tri-State following her Nov. 22, 2000, death, filed a damage lawsuit Tuesday against the crematory, Buckner-Rush Funeral Home in Cleveland and the funeral home’s parent company, Prime Succession Holding Inc.

An attorney for Tierney’s family, David Randolph Smith of Nashville, said he was seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which accuses the funeral home and crematory of negligent or intentional mishandling of corpses.
Smith said Tennessee families took deceased loved ones to Buckner-Rush and other funeral homes believing they would be cremated based on Tennessee’s laws and regulations. He said that instead of using crematories in Cleveland and Chattanooga they used an unlicensed crematory 50 miles away in Georgia.
”The only explanation is the cost,” Smith said.

A Buckner-Rush co-owner, Mark Rush, could not be reached by telephone for comment.
Of some 70 Chattanooga area funeral homes, more than 30 have dealt with Tri-State over the past 20 years.

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