UPDATE: Mid-South funeral home may have cremated wrong body

By Anna Marie Hartman - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - A Mid-South funeral home is under fire after a family said it cremated the wrong body and put their loved one in another person's casket.

When Katherine McClamrock lost her mother, Billie Sue Smith, in June, she trusted High Point Funeral Chapel to honor her mother's wish to be cremated.

"We had no reason to believe that everything wasn't fine until we got the call from Nashville," McClamrock said.

The Tennessee Board of Funeral Directors told McClamrock the ashes she thought belonged to her mother were likely those of a complete stranger.

Former High Point employee Oliver Ewing told the board the funeral home mistakenly cremated a man who was to be buried.  Ewing said when he alerted his boss, he was told to "remove Billie Sue Smith's remains from her body bag and remove any and all identification."

"His story is that his boss told him don't tell him anybody," Attorney Jeff Rosenblum said.  "Let's bury the woman in the man's grave, let's give the woman's family the man's ashes."

Rosenblum brought a medical examiner to the grave sight marked John Hughes.  But inside the casket were the remains of Billie Sue Smith.

Smith's loved ones are now grieving all over again.

"My mother was so wronged, she was such a good woman," McClamrock said.  "Everyone loved her."

After Action News 5's original broadcast of this story, a funeral director who requested anonymity said the funeral business is a small world, and many of his colleagues are responding to the body mix-up.

"The funeral directors of the Mid-South are upset," he said. "It hurts the profession, and all that strive to do the right thing."

The funeral director said keeping track of bodies hinges upon a simple concept.

"The chain of custody," he said. "You identify the body. You mark it. You put tags on it. You attach devices we call PID's, permanent identification devices."

The funeral director also recommends protecting yourself when cremating a loved one by assigning a family representative to bear witness.

"Get them to go and watch it be done," he said. "That way you know that you know that everything is done correctly."

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