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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Identities of 6 bodies released by coroner

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA AND RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Denise Jones held a visitation Jan. 21 at the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home for her husband, but it was almost six months before she finally received an urn that supposedly contained his ashes.

Now Mrs. Jones has no idea what that urn contains.

Toledo police told her earlier this week that 48-year-old Vernon Jones was one of eight bodies found June 20 in a building behind the funeral home at 639 Indiana Ave.

“My husband was supposed to be cremated and I went there June 12 and Mr. Harden gave me an urn that he said had my husband's ashes in it,” Mrs. Jones said. “Then I found out that my husband was still at the funeral home. Why did he have to give me an urn filled with dirt or rocks and say it was my husband?”

Besides Mr. Jones, the Lucas County coroner's office yesterday identified five others as:

Dennis Richardson, 59, who died Oct. 19.

Richard Anderson, 38, who died Jan. 26.

Marie Marquart, 81, who died Feb. 15.

Lelia Worden, 70, who died March 24.

Keturah Taylor, 61, who died April 4.

Identifying the two remaining bodies could be difficult, coroner Dr. James Patrick said, because their advanced state of decomposition indicates they could have been there for years.

The Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is holding an emergency meeting this afternoon in Columbus on the discovery at the Toledo funeral home.

The board could take disciplinary action that could include revocation of Sherrill Harden's operating license.

“I hope the funeral home gets shut down or torn down and that he goes to jail,” Mrs. Jones said.

Authorities said they have no idea what is actually in the sealed urn given to Mrs. Jones and have told the family not to open it.

The owner of the funeral home, Henry Harden, did not return phone calls yesterday. No one answered the door there yesterday for a Blade reporter.

Mr. Harden provided police with names of six of the bodies after they were found. However, at least one of the identities was incorrect. Mr. Harden told police he had no knowledge of the two bodies that were most badly decomposed.

Some of the bodies were discovered in cardboard boxes, which are commonly used by crematoriums.

Members of the Jones family said they were told Mr. Jones would be cremated at Tri County Cremation Services in Ypsilanti.

“I brought in insurance papers and I paid [Mr. Harden] $1,000 on Feb. 3. He kept putting me off and off, but he didn't put me off when I brought him the money,” she said.

Mr. Jones, originally from Philadelphia, was blind since 1993. He lived in Toledo the past 15 years - most recently on Lawrence Avenue. He died Jan. 16 from accidentally taking the wrong medication, his step-son, James Jones, said.

“It makes me angry that [the funeral home] gave my mother an urn with rocks and stuff in it, making her believe it was my stepfather,” the younger Jones said.

The Richardson family had similar problems with the funeral home.

Mr. Richardson was a military veteran who worked many years at the former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. plant in Rossford.

Christina Perkins, Mr. Richardson's aunt, said his family held a funeral where they viewed the body on Nov. 1. The remains were supposed to be cremated after the funeral.

When no death notice appeared in the paper, Ms. Perkins said she began to suspect something went awry with the funeral arrangements.

She called the Toledo-Lucas County health department, where officials claimed they did not have Mr. Richardson's death certificate, she said, adding that she got a sinking feeling when she heard Friday about the unburied bodies at the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home.

“When I heard it, I knew that Denny was one of them,” she said. “In my heart, I knew it.”

Ms. Perkins said she paid for part of the funeral costs and expected Mr. Richardson's father, Cleveland, to pay the remaining portion.

“I paid for half of it and I got half of it, so I guess I can't have any big complaint,” Ms. Perkins said.

The elder Mr. Richardson said yesterday he was unsure whether all the funeral expenses were paid.

“I figure [Mr. Harden] was just trying to help people who didn't have money. He was just trying to be nice,” Ms. Perkins said.

“I'm not angry about it. It's just terrible that it had to happen that way.”

Bob Shenefield, president of Sylvania's Toledo Memorial Park and Mausoleum, said a cremation costs about $200. That price does not include other costs incurred by the funeral home, such as embalming.

The elder Mr. Richardson recalled his son as a talented boy who excelled at various hobbies, including table tennis and playing the piano. But he said his son's life went astray when he got addicted to drugs.

“He was a highly intelligent individual,” his father said. “I just can't understand what caused him to go that way.”

The Blade could not reach family members for Ms. Taylor and Mr. Anderson, who was a construction worker.

Ms. Marquart has no surviving family. The 81-year-old woman died at the Concord Care Center, 3121 Glanzman Rd., where she had been living. A guardianship for her care was established with the Lucas County Probate Court. It was unclear last night who made arrangements for her funeral, but authorities are investigating the possibility she may have prepaid for her funeral.

Ms. Worden was a retiree of the former Maumee Valley Hospital. Her family members declined to comment last night.

The Sherrill Harden Funeral Home closed after a funeral yesterday. Toledo Mayor Jack Ford asked Mr. Harden to do so voluntarily, at least until an investigation is completed.

In June, 2002, Sherrill Harden was accused of not properly caring for the dead and charged with unprofessional conduct.

Two years earlier, the board revoked the licenses of the Sherrill Harden home and director Sandra Harden, Mr. Harden's wife, for 30 days after the funeral home failed to file required paperwork for a fourth year about pre-need contracts involving advance payment for funerals.



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