CLEVELAND, Ohio - Ivan Markovic thought the death of his ailing, elderly father meant the hardest part of their ordeal was over. Then the FBI called.
of the blue, on July 1, the FBI called to tell him that his father's
body had not been cremated by a Colorado funeral home as he had thought,
he said. Instead, they told him that it may have been sold by "body
broker" and shipped to an undisclosed location.
They asked him to turn over the ashes that the funeral home had given
him for testing to determine if they were from something other than
FBI confirmed that it is testing what Markovic believed were his
father's cremains, along with those from about 50 others as a part of an
investigation into the Sunset Mesa funeral home. The same people own
and operate Donor Services and a crematory, all on the same piece of
property in Montrose, Colo. All the businesses are now closed.
The FBI offered little other information.
is not illegal to sell body parts, though such sales could only be done
with the permission of the family of the person, or by the person
before death, according to a spokesman for the National Funeral
said the FBI told him Donor Services sold body parts for medical and
educational research. A single body could yield thousands of dollars if
sold in pieces, according to numerous sources, including Angela
McArthur, director of body donations at the University of Minnesota
"I just can't believe this is happening," said Markovic, 58, who
lived in Northeast Ohio most of his life, as did his parents. "Anyone
who would do this to people is a monster that we need to be protected
from. I don't know how to prevent people from being bad, but if they are
caught they should be punished criminally.
"George" Markovic was 87 when he died on March 11, 2016. He had been
living at the Colorow Nursing Home in Olathe, Colo., along with his
wife, Slavka "Sylvia" Markovic, 92. She died on July 5, shortly after
Ivan Markovic arrived in Colorado with the ashes that he had believed
were his father's.
his parents emigrated to the United States from the former Yugoslavia
in 1969. All three became naturalized citizens of the United States in
FBI testing cremains
began investigating after several people came forward with suspicions
that ashes they were given by the Sunset Mesa funeral home were not the
cremains of their loved ones, according to Reuters, The Denver Post and
other news reports.
woman told the Colorado Office of Funeral Home and Crematory
Registration she was suspicious when the cremated remains of a loved one
seemed light for the persons size and weight. She had the cremains
analyzed and the analysis found pieces of a watch, rivets and parts of a
metal zipper. She said when the body was turned over, it wore only
pajamas and had no metal of it, according to a complaint filed by the state office of funeral home and crematory registration.
The news of the case was broken by Reuters News Service and the Denver Post newspaper.
Reuters, which wrote a series on
body selling, reported that Donor Services offered a price list to
medical training laboratories for body parts: torsos for $1,000 each,
heads for $500 and a foot for $125. The news service said the prices
were listed on the company's website, which has since been taken down.
is highly unusual to have a donor service operations run together by
funeral home owners, according to the National Funeral Director's
Association. But, the association says, it is not illegal.
No charges have been filed in the case against the owner of the funeral home and crematory, Megan Hess. Hess could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the 50 sets of ashes that included Markovic's, Colorado Mesa University told
The Plain Dealer it is testing another 109 cremains to "ease the
concerns" of people who used Sunset Mesa for funeral services.
university tests will only determine if the ashes came from bones or
some other material; it cannot distinguish if the bones are from a human
or an animal. Testing to determine DNA of the ashes would be very
difficult and expensive.
State suspends funeral home license
The Sunset Funeral Home's license to operate was suspended in
February by the Colorado Division of Professions and Occupations based
on their findings that included providing false cremains to families, who had the cremains tested and found they were not human.
According to a filing at the Colorado Office of Administrative
Courts, in 2014 a family became suspicious of cremains of a loved one
handled by Sunset Mesa. According to the report of the suspension, the
family had the cremains analyzed and was told the ashes were concrete. A
year later a second family had cremains of a loved one analyzed and
were also found to be concrete, the report said.
The report noted other reasons for the suspension of the funeral home
and crematorium's licenses included the information that five people
were cremated without a permit.
Also, the state report said the funeral home did not have a
registered, qualified person in charge. When Hess purchased the funeral
home and crematory in 2011, former owner Greg Huffer was listed as the
person registered by the state to perform funeral home and crematory
Since the sale to Hess, there was no qualified person designated by
the state to run the funeral home and crematory, according to the
complaint filed by the state.
A complaint against the funeral home and the crematory filed by
the Colorado Office of Administrative Court, said the owners "engaged in
numerous incidents of willfully dishonest conduct or committed
negligence in the practice of embalming, funeral directing, or providing
for final disposition that defrauds or causes injury."
Reeves and Baskerville funeral home owner Matt Baskerville owner of
the Reeves and Baskerville funeral home in Wilmington, Ill., speaking on
behalf of the National Funeral Directors Association, said he was
shocked at the story.
disheartening to hear this, it puts a black mark on all of us," he
said. "Most organizations that deal with this kind of donations are not
for profit, making enough just to keep it going. I've never heard of
anything like this."
Markovic didn't know his father had died
said he was not contacted about his father's death and only learned of
it when a friend saw the obituary in a newspaper."There
was not even a funeral," Marcovic said. "They (the Sunset Mesa funeral
home) did not even want to give me my father's ashes. I insisted, and
they finally allowed me to pick them up."
much of the past two years, Markovic has been moving back and forth
from Ohio to Colorado, he lived in Bath and Hinckley during that time.
He and his family lived in the Cleveland area, including Lakewood, North
Olmsted and Hinckley, for 38 years.
said once he was given the ashes, he kept them in his truck so he could
feel close to his father while on the road in his job setting up
computer systems for businesses.
course, I assumed they were my father's remains," he said. "One day, I
took them to a cemetery in Mansfield where my father's mother is buried.
I buried some of the ashes on her grave and kept the rest with me."
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FBI says funeral home may have given son fake cremains of his father, sold body