Updated 02/20/12 – 10 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Police and city inspectors were investigating a South Shore funeral home that was shut down Monday morning after police found the building had no heat or electricity. A former worker said bodies were not properly stored in coolers, but instead were placed in the garage in winter and cooled with frozen water packs in summer.
Chicago police issued one citation to the owner for improper care and storage of deceased human remains. Bodies were carried out of carter funeral home Monday night, removed by pastors and other mortuaries.
Anthony Townsel was still trying to claim his mother’s body more than a month after her death. He thought she’d been cremated.
“That’s not the case,” he told reporters. “Her body’s in the back, being decomposed right now.”
CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports a passerby called police after noticing the door of Carter Funeral Chapels, at 2100 E. 75th St., was open around 3:45 a.m. That person also noticed a suspicious car in the parking lot.
When police arrived, investigators found the funeral home was without power or heat. Police confirmed they found bodies inside, but it was not clear how many or whether the bodies had been embalmed, a process that requires electricity.
When officers arrived at the scene, two custodians and a third person were inside the funeral home. That third person had an outstanding warrant and was arrested. It was unknown why that person was at the funeral home.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller Reports
The building appeared to be in disarray, police said. Building and health inspectors were also brought in to investigate, and to speak to the owner to determine how long heat and power have been off.
As WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports, former funeral home worker Brian Johnson said the owner did not properly store bodies in a cooler.
Johnson said the funeral home did everything quick, fast and easy. He said in winter, when there was no power, bodies would be stored in the garage.
“There is no cooling system whatsoever to keep bodies cold, and so in the wintertime the coldest place was the garage, or is the garage,” Johnson said.
In the summer, according to Johnson, “they would take water containers, and fill them up with water, and freeze them, and then stick the bottles underneath the arms, or underneath the head of the body to keep the overall body temperature cool.”
When firefighters showed up Monday, they were wearing their standard uniforms as they went inside funeral home, but after viewing conditions inside, they came out wearing gas masks.
Johnson, a contractor who worked there for three years, claimed, “They were cutting corners. When he was supposed to do it correctly, he wouldn’t do it, because it was too much trouble, too much money, too much hassle.”
Johnson said when he heard that police officers and firefighters had converged on the building, he wasn’t surprised.
“I was, like, ‘Wow, they finally caught up with him,’” Johnson said.
Sources said at least half a dozen bodies were stacked inside, in some cases one on top of the other.
Several family members of the deceased at the funeral home arrived at the scene Monday in hopes of getting answers.
Julia Bailey told reporters she has been waiting since November to get the cremated remains of her father, Tom McLin.
Other family members who showed up Monday couldn’t believe what they found.
Leona Howard came to Chicago from North Carolina to oversee the burial of her 97-year-old uncle, Eddie Moore.
“We just have no idea what’s going on. His funeral is in the morning at 10:30,” Howard said.
Sources said the funeral home has been without power since October. Common propane tanks allegedly were being used to heat the facility.
Neighbors said they’ve heard generators running at all hours of the night.
The owner has been cited for several code violations, including failure to care for human remains.
Carter Funeral Chapels has faced 17 civil lawsuits between 1991 and 2010, most of them for contract disputes. Court records show most of those lawsuits were settled, dismissed or stricken.
Funeral director Harry Joseph Carter III had his license suspended for at least 90 days and was fined $6,000 in October 2008, for “violation of regulations, untrustworthiness, embalming without prior consent and unprofessional conduct,” records show.
The state also refused to renew his license in 2006 for failing to file and/or pay state income taxes, records show.
Carter’s license also was suspended in 1999 and he was fined for practicing on a non-renewed license and failing to take required continuing education courses. He later faced a two-year probation from October 1999 to October 2001 for the same violations, records show.
The owner declined to talk with reporters Monday night at the scene.