8 bodies found abandoned after mortuary service ordered to vacate building

Courtesy USA Today

FORT WORTH, Texas — The owners of a funeral home, where eight bodies were found unattended Tuesday, say a misunderstanding led police to search the business.

The owner of the building where Johnson Family Mortuary operates said he told the owners to vacate about two weeks ago. The landlord went to the building, which has no refrigerated storage, Tuesday and found eight bodies inside but no employees.

The landlord called police, who obtained a search warrant and located the bodies, "aged from infant to adult, were found in the building in varying stages of decomposition, some quite advanced," according to Fort Worth Police spokesman Raymond Bush.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office then removed eight bodies. That office is now working to identify them.

The mortuary is run by twin brothers Dondre and Derrick Johnson.

On Tuesday, Dondre Johnson insisted remains were treated properly.

"I've been in business 25 years and I'll continue to serve the community," he said.

Police said the bodies were not refrigerated, but the building did have working utilities. The phone of the business was disconnected.

Johnson also said he had been paying rent, but that the landlord had a misunderstanding.

According to the Texas Funeral Services Commission, there are five complaints pending against the mortuary. A commission attorney said the state shut down a previous Johnson Brothers funeral home in 2010 for failing to pay $13,000 in penalties for violations.

However, some at the scene said they received good service when they used the funeral home.

On the business' Facebook page, where the last post was made in June 2013, the business was rated 4.5 out of five stars, with 55 ratings.

The Better Business Bureau showed one complaint made over the last three years.

Johnson said he will open in another location, but records show his license expires July 30.

The funeral commission says the license is "flagged" because of complaints. That will require the operators to justify renewal.

Police made no arrests at the mortuary Tuesday.

As the investigation continues, some families are wondering if their loved ones were among the decomposing remains removed from the facility.

Lupe Mata said her family held a service last month for her sister, Victoria Vasquez, at the funeral home. She said they noticed some problems with the appearance of her body when they arrived for the service.

"Her hair was slicked back with oil; she was already dark in the face. That wasn't' my sister," Mata said.

She said the facility smelled, as if corpses were decomposing.

Mata said her family had agreed to help do some cleaning services for the mortuary in exchange for a discount on an urn. But some four-and-a-half weeks later, they haven't received Vasquez's remains, and now question if she was indeed cremated.

"We don't know," she said. "It's kind of awful not knowing and having to wait."


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