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Published: Friday, 7/11/2003

7th body identified; woman died in 1996

The seventh of eight bodies found last month at a central Toledo funeral home was identified yesterday by the Lucas County Coroner's Office as that of a 29-year-old woman who died more than six years ago.

Authorities found eight bodies in various states of decomposition June 20 at the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home, 639 Indiana Ave.

Six were identified within a week, but the coroner's office sought the public's help in identifying the two remaining bodies.

The seventh body was identified as that of Donja Marie Swaggerty, a 29-year-old African-American who died in Memphis.

An obituary notice that appeared in The Blade at the time said she was survived by her three sons, two brothers, two sisters, parents, and grandparents.

No relatives could be found last night for comment.

The body, which was in a casket, had not been embalmed, the coroner's office said.

Dental records were used to help make the identification, said Dr. Diane Barnett, a deputy coroner.

Ms. Swaggerty died Nov. 26, 1996. Her body was sent to Toledo, where services were scheduled at the funeral home.

The family was given what they thought were the cremated remains of Ms. Swaggerty's body, Dr. Barnett said.

The still-unidentified eighth body, which was found in a mummified state in a cardboard cremation container, appeared to have been prepared for viewing, Dr. Barnett said.

The woman was more than 60 years old and probably older than 70 when she died.

She had short, gray, tightly curled hair, and stood from 4 feet, 11 inches to 5 feet, 2 inches tall. She had a few teeth in her bottom jaw. All of her upper teeth were lost well before she died.

Her body was dressed in a white net burial gown that had pearl and lace appliques.

The funeral home is now closed and the funeral director licenses of Henry Harden and his wife, Sandra R. Harden, have been suspended by the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors.

Mr. Harden was able to identify six of the bodies, but he could not name the remaining two.

During a meeting Tuesday with representatives of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, Mr. Harden promised to comb through his records for information that would help authorities put names to the two bodies that, at that point, had yet to be identified.

John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the prosecutor's office, said if Mr. Harden could produce the records by Aug. 4, the prosecutor's office will limit the number of criminal charges Mr. Harden will face.

Mr. Weglian noted that the funeral home operator could be charged with abuse of a corpse and theft, both fifth-degree felonies that carry the potential for a one-year prison term.

After the meeting, Mr. Harden, speaking publicly for the first time since the bodies were discovered, apologized to family members for not properly caring for their loved ones.



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