TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) – Police have arrested a Michigan man on a charge of abusing a corpse at a Toledo funeral home where two relatives of the deceased said they were offered a free funeral and casket for their loved one in exchange for not going to authorities.
Lawrence Clement, 57, surrendered to authorities on Thursday, Toledo police Sgt. Joe Heffernan said. He said Clement was arrested on a corpse abuse charge. Clement is from Temperance, about seven miles north of Toledo.
The children of Brenda Shular-Cameron, who died of multiple organ failure at age 51, were told by the H.H. Birkenkamp Funeral Home that their mother’s body was mistreated, The Blade newspaper reported.
Details on the abuse were not released, but the employee has been fired, said Lisa Marshall, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Service Corporation International, which owns the funeral home. She denied the family was offered a deal and noted the company wouldn’t have told the family in the first place if it wanted to cover anything up.
“I do not believe for one minute that we offered the family anything for their silence, and I believe that we operated as we always do with full transparency,” she told The Associated Press.
Shular-Cameron’s son, Marc Nail, said he and his sister, Amber Thebeau-Tunison, met with funeral home manager Susan Birkenkamp on Tuesday and were told their mother’s body was “mistreated.” Nail said he was told another funeral home employee witnessed the “fondling.”
During that meeting, Nail said, he and his sister were told that if they went to police, the incident would become public record, according to the newspaper. He alleges that Birkenkamp then offered to forgive the $11,000 funeral cost if the family didn’t call police.
Nail, reached by The Associated Press by phone on Thursday, would not comment on what allegedly happened at the funeral home.
As of now, police are investigating only the allegation of corpse abuse, Toledo police Sgt. Tim Campbell said. Birkenkamp was unavailable for comment, Marshall said.
The Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors said the funeral home contacted the board about the matter. The board also is investigating and could suspend or revoke the license of the funeral home or its director if wrongdoing is found, Acting Director Jennifer Baugess said.
She said board inspectors would be in Toledo on Friday to interview funeral home employees.
Two former employees of the funeral home were found guilty in court in 1988 of abusing a corpse, Baugess said. The board has not received any other major complaints about the funeral home, and no violations were found, she said.
Service Corporation International did not own the funeral home in 1988, Marshall said.
Cameron’s family transferred her body to another funeral home but couldn’t make arrangements because of the investigation, said her mother, Anne Lamprecht.
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