Tip leads authorities to 11 infant bodies hidden in former Detroit funeral home

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

 Detroit — An anonymous tip on Friday led state authorities to the remains of 11 infants hidden in a ceiling compartment of an east side funeral home shuttered since spring over deplorable conditions, Detroit police say.

Detroit Police are on the scene at the former Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue. The remains of 11 infants were found in the ceiling of the building on the city's east side Friday, police say.

Inspectors from the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs uncovered the remains at the Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue. 

Detroit Police Detective Lt. Brian Bowser told reporters during a news conference that state officials had received an anonymous letter in the mail Friday, informing them that the infant bodies were hidden inside.

“The letter detailed the existence of human remains inside the funeral home,” said Bowser. “They were met here by the current owner who admitted them entry. They went to the location described in the letter and located a couple boxes. One box and one small casket.”

Read more: Bodies of 11 infants 'stashed like trash' in funeral home

State inspectors found the stillborn bodies in a ceiling compartment similar to an upper stairwell and called Detroit police at 2:30 p.m., added Bowser of the Detroit Police Department's homicide division.

Nine of the bodies were found in a cardboard box, two others were in separate trash bags in a single small casket, he said.

Detroit police, he said, removed the box from a “false ceiling between the first and second floor of the funeral home."

"They were kind of hidden away," Bowser told reporters. "It's just the callousness of the operators, the owners, the employees of the funeral home."

Reached Friday night, Jameca LaJoyce Boone, the funeral home’s designated manager for a year before its closure, said she was shocked to learn about the bodies.

“I didn’t know anything about that,” she told The Detroit News. “I really don’t know how that could even have happened. I don’t know how long that’s been going on there… it’s very unfortunate and they definitely need to find out who put them there.” 

The Wayne County medical examiner's office will take lead on notifying families of the babies, some of which they already have names for, Bowser said. 

The bodies, he said, were improperly taken care of and authorities couldn’t immediately identify how long the remains had been stowed for but are trying to get in touch with the former owner of the building. 

Jason Moon, a spokesman for LARA, said in a Friday email to The News that investigators searched the site based on a new complaint and found the decomposing infant bodies.

"We then immediately contacted local authorities," Moon said, noting in April LARA already had suspended the mortuary licenses of both the home and Boone for "many violations including improper storage of decomposing bodies of adults and infants."

"That suspension order remains in effect as does our investigation," Moon added. "We will use the evidence gathered today to add to our open investigation and will continue to work with local law enforcement as this case proceeds.”

Detroit police searched the building late into the evening. Bowser said late Friday that no additional bodies were found. 

Multiple police cruisers, a Detroit police crime scene van and several unmarked police vehicles were outside the now vacant funeral home. 

Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack

A message was left Friday evening with an answering service for the funeral home and its listed owner could not be immediately reached. 

Bowser said that police need to speak with the prior owner "because we need to find out what happened and why it happened."

The former funeral home is currently empty and being rehabilitated.

Robert Beavers, an employee of Mack & Bewick Market & Liquor down the street, said the funeral home has been shuttered for some time. 

“People have been going in and out of there cleaning up inside lately,” he said late Friday. “Seems like they’ve only been closed a few months but they’re definitely still closed.” 

State officials shut down the funeral home in April after inspectors found decomposing remains and "deplorable conditions."

Read more: State shuts down Detroit funeral home for 'deplorable conditions'

Late Friday, Detroit police vehicles park outside the now vacant Cantrell Funeral Home.

Inspectors, at the time, found the business had two bodies in advanced stages of decomposition and covered with mold in the funeral home. Another body had unknown fluids covering its face. They also found improperly stored embalmed bodies in an un-refrigerated garage.

The business' embalming room was unclean and unsanitary with peeling paint, water-stained walls and dirty floors, according to LARA.

Officials also said the funeral home's management had failed to renew its prepaid funeral and cemetery sales registration, it hadn't deposited at least $21,000 the business received for prepaid funeral services for 13 contracts or refunded customers their money. 

Reporter Mark Hicks contributed.