CLEVELAND (AP) — Ohio investigators have found the cremated remains of 89 people stored in boxes and bags at an abandoned church in Akron, authorities said.
According to Steve Irwin, spokesperson for the attorney general, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation took the remains from Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday.
Shawnte Hardin, 41, is accused of racketeering and tampering in records. She also faces identity fraud, abuse of a body, and racketeering.
Some of the criminal charges stem from Franklin, Summit, Cuyahoga, where Hardin is accused of being an unlicensed funeral manager. These cases were brought together in Toledo. Hardin pleaded not guilty.
Hardin’s attorney, Richard Kerger, said Thursday that a former funeral director named Robert Tate Jr. asked Hardin in 2017 to store the ashes of people whose families had not claimed them.
“There was no compensation for him,” Kerger said of Hardin. “He was just doing a service for someone who needed it.”
Tate agreed to a felony and three misdemeanor charge. Tate was convicted after 11 bodies were found in different states of decay at Tate’s Toledo funeral home. Tate was sentenced for one week in prison and probation. He was 65 when he passed away in December.
The remains in Akron were initially discovered Sunday by a woman who told a state investigator she was an “urban explorer” and had entered an open door of an abandoned church. This woman contacted Ohio State Bureau of Embalmers and Funeral Directors to initiate the investigation.
A search warrant affidavit by Arvin Clar, an agent of state investigation said that some of the ashes belonged to the woman.
Kerger refuted the claim that the church was abandoned. He said Hardin has not been able to check on the building since being placed on home detention at his mother’s home in Columbus while awaiting trial.
In September, Hardin was indicted on 37 counts. He had been accused of operating an unlicensed cemetery. An individual called 911 to report seeing a dead body being taken from a van and placed in a building. This prompted the investigation.
Two bodies were removed from the structure by state agents.
Hardin said that he did not act as a funeral Director, but offered affordable services to transport and wash dead bodies.
He was also charged with seven other charges, including December’s abuse of corpse.
According to his attorney, state law does not require a funeral director’s license to bury people.
“There’s nothing wrong with helping people dispose the remains of their loved ones,” Kerger said.