Coffins Found At Noble That Had Previously Been Buried

  • Tuesday, February 19, 2002
Ray Marsh
Ray Marsh

Investigators at the Tri-State Crematory property said they have found 6-7 coffins that had previously been buried.

Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia chief medical examiner, said he did not know what to make of the dirt-covered coffins that contain human remains.

At a 2 p.m. press conference at the agriculture building near the Walker County Civic Center, he said 149 bodies have now been found and 29 identified from the Noble, Ga., site.

Officials said one coffin was found just behind the home of Brent Marsh, crematory operator who already faces 16 felony charges in the case. They said the coffin contained a body.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said there are several mounds nearby, and when they were searched they were found to contain more bodies and body parts.

Sheriff Wilson said search warrants were being executed Tuesday afternoon at the home of Brent Marsh on the crematory grounds. He said authorities were looking for business or computer records dealing with the crematory.

The sheriff also said that certain other properties were under scrutiny for possible bodies. He said a helicopter was flying over the properties to see if there were any visible suspicious signs to warrant a search being made on the ground.

It was also announced that a candlelight memorial service will be held tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. at the Oakwood Baptist Church in Chickamauga, Ga.

Sheriff Wilson said the service came about at the urging of family members of those whose bodies were taken to Tri-State Crematory for cremation, but were not cremated.

He said it would be "a time of remembering the loved ones, of prayer and of reading the scriptures."

Officials said a portable morgue had arrived from Rockville, Md., and was being set up to help process and identify bodies constantly being uncovered at the property.

They said a team of 23 experts accompanied the morgue ranging from forensic pathologists and anthropologists to photographers, doctors and nurses. The team was recently at the World Trade Center in New York City.

Dr. Sperry said 79 new sets of ashes brought in by relatives had been examined. He said seven of those were not of human origin. He said one appeared to be "dirt - potting soil."

Dr. Sperry said he had spoken with relatives of one person whose body has been positively identified. He said those relatives told of being given the person's ashes from a funeral home.

He said work was being concentrated in recovering bodies outside on Tuesday since rain was forecast for Wednesday. He said if it rains, then the work would shift inside to a storage building, where authorities said there are six vaults filled with bodies.

They said one of those vaults was brought in from outside. They said a larger one appears to have about 40 bodies and the five smaller ones about 20 bodies each.

Heat and light are being installed in the large storage building to aid in the recovery operation.

Sheriff Wilson said a local firm had reported selling a number of septic tank vaults to the Marshes, but he said the company had not been able to substantiate that with records. He said those type vaults have not been found on the property to date. He said the Marshes had permits for four septic tanks and did not have licenses to install septic tanks.

Asked about the Marshes, he said they were "good people." He said the sheriff's office had worked in the past with Clara Marsh, mother of Brent Marsh, when she was with the Walker County Schools.

He said why the bodies were handled the way they were "is the million dollar question." He said finances was apparently not the issue, saying it cost about $25 to run an incinerator in a crematory for two and a half to three hours.

The sheriff said, "I don't know what went wrong."

Sheriff Wilson also said he could not explain why no one had discovered earlier the way the bodies were being handled. He said he detected no odor on the property - except when the doors were open to the storage shed where bodies had been piled in vaults.

Sheriff Wilson said a lake on the property will eventually be dealt with to see if there are bodies there, but he said the focus was on inspecting the woods and the storage buildings first.

Officials said there was no evidence the bodies had been tampered with.

They said they found one ring and one locket. They said jewelry is usually removed prior to bodies being sent for cremation.

Over 400 personnel are involved in the operation, which Dr. Sperry estimated was costing in the millions of dollars. Some 125 workers are on the property, which is just off Highway 27 three miles north of LaFayette, Ga. Those workers are wearing special protective suits.

Sheriff Wilson said at the start of work each day that devotions and prayer are held among the workers. He said pastoral chaplains are on site.

He said a new surveying and mapping procedure is being used for the property. He said it normally is used by the Georgia State Patrol on accident cases.

District Attorney Buzz Franklin said Marsh has spoken with attorneys, but apparently still had not hired one. He said a bond hearing would be delayed until he has one Marsh remains held at the Walker County Jail in LaFayette on 16 felony counts of theft by deception.

The district attorney said other counts are to be brought against Marsh later.

He declined to say whether other individuals would be charged.

District Attorney Franklin said federal authorities are looking into possible federal charges.

Dewayne Wilson, Walker County coroner, said the bodies that have been identified have been taken to an undisclosed location. He said they each were placed in small inexpensive caskets that had been purchased. He said they were being returned to funeral homes with the consent of families.

About a dozen bodies have been returned to funeral homes thus far, he said.

Officials have said that family members are not being asked to personally inspect bodies in the identification process, but they are asked to provide information.

Asked if funeral home operators faced scrutiny and liability, the coroner said a national funeral home group is looking into the situation.

A toll-free number that has been set up for families is 1-888-887-1845.

Officials also said the Georgia Emergency Management Agency website has family information. The site is
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