Detroit police find 63 fetuses in boxes, freezers of funeral home

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Detroit Police Chief James Craig

Detroit police removed 63 fetuses Friday from a Detroit funeral home, as state inspectors shuttered the facility that is under investigation on allegations of mishandling remains and fraud. 

Police raided Perry Funeral Home on Trumbull Ave. Friday afternoon and found 36 fetuses in boxes and an additional 27 fetuses in freezers there, Detroit police chief James Craig said.

"I’m stunned," Craig said. "My team is stunned. God help those families."

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs announced Friday it had suspended the mortuary science licenses of Perry Funeral Home and its director Gary Deak.

The decision to close the facility came after an inspection Friday which uncovered "an imminent threat to the public health and safety," LARA spokesman Jason Moon said in a press release.

Detroit Police execute a search warrant at Perry Funeral Home in Detroit Friday afternoon, October 19, 2018. "We served a warrant there," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. "We're looking for evidence of improper disposal of remains or any other improprieties."

Friday's grisly discovery is the latest development in a widening investigation into alleged improprieties at local funeral homes.

Craig said earlier Friday law enforcement agencies are considering forming a task force to investigate the issue, specifically targeting improper storage of remains and fraud.

As part of that probe, Detroit police raided another funeral home Friday: Q A Cantrell Funeral Home in Eastpointe, along with a home in Grosse Pointe Woods.

"This is larger than we might know," Craig said during a press briefing Friday at the 5th Precinct. "These are allegations at this point, but it's very, very disturbing. I've never seen anything like it in 41-and-a-half years (as a police officer)."

More:Past inspections failed to uncover Cantrell Funeral Home's secrets

The investigation that began a week ago with the Cantrell Funeral Home in Detroit spread this week to Perry Funeral Home.

According to Moon's press release, during Friday's inspection, workers with LARA’s Corporations, Securities & Commercial Licensing Bureau found:

  • Three un-refrigerated boxes containing the remains of approximately 36 deceased bodies of fetuses or infants plus a deep freezer containing additional deceased bodies. Some of the deceased had dates of death in 2015.
  • The funeral home failed to certify and file death certificates for the dead bodies of the fetuses and infants for whom they assumed custody with the appropriate governmental authority within 72 hours of death.
  • The funeral home failed to secure permits for removal or burial of dead human bodies before interment or disposal. 
  • Perry "obtained possession or embalmed the dead human bodies of the fetuses and infants without first being expressly directed or authorized to do so by a relative of the deceased persons or a person entitled to custody," the release said.
The funeral home investigation spread this week to Perry Funeral Home in Detroit, which was searched by police Friday evening.

"We will continue following the evidence," Craig added. "It's just unbelievable."

During the raid earlier Friday at Q A Cantrell Funeral Home, police removed computers, phone records and other items, according to the Eastpointe funeral home's attorney.

Craig told reporters that he met Friday with representatives from the state Attorney General's Office, Wayne County Prosecutor's Office, the FBI and LARA to discuss how to move forward with a criminal investigation into the Cantrell and Perry funeral homes.

"There's no connection that we know of between the two funeral homes, but there are similarities, including the improper disposal of fetuses," Craig said. "We discussed having a task force operation to investigate this, although that's preliminary.

"We may ask Michigan State Police to help at some point because some of this investigation may take us away from the city of Detroit."

Detroit police on Friday also raided the home of Annetta Cantrell, owner of Q A Cantrell Funeral Home. Attorney Arnold Reed insists the Eastpointe facility is not affiliated with the shuttered Detroit funeral home of the same name, other than Annetta Cantrell was once married to Raymond Cantrell, former owner of the Detroit facility.

"The police raided us early this morning at the funeral home and simultaneously at the home of Annetta Cantrell," Reed said. "They got laptops, bank statements, phone records and other records. They're obviously looking for any connection between Q A Cantrell and Cantrell in Detroit.

Detroit Police officers use crime scene tape to cordon off the area while they execute a search warrant at Perry Funeral Home in Detroit Friday afternoon, October 19, 2018. Detroit Police Chief James Craig said, "We're looking for evidence of improper disposal of remains or any other improprieties."

"They're throwing a Hail Mary, but we cooperated with them and gave them everything they wanted."

Craig, meanwhile, said he already had planned to meet with the county and state representatives but asked the FBI to attend because of allegations that Perry Funeral Home fraudulently billed Medicaid and the state for burials and funeral services that weren't performed.

Detroit Police execute a search warrant at Perry Funeral Home in Detroit Friday afternoon, October 19, 2018. "We served a warrant there," Detroit Police Chief James Craig said. "We're looking for evidence of improper disposal of remains or any other improprieties."

FBI spokeswoman Agent Mara Schneider declined to comment Friday.

The investigations started Oct. 12, when state inspectors got a tip that fetuses and infants' bodies were improperly stored at Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue. When state workers and Detroit police entered the facility, they discovered the bodies of 11 babies — 10 of which were fetuses — hidden above a false ceiling.

That came after state inspectors in April shuttered the funeral home upon finding 21 improperly stored bodies, some of them covered in mold, in the facility. When they returned in August, LARA employees found two more bodies, a fetus and the cremated remains of another body.

On Wednesday, the cremated remains of four more bodies were found at Cantrell by state inspectors. Since April, 38 unattended bodies and 269 containers of cremated remains have been discovered in the facility.

Craig said the investigation into Perry came after police held a press conference discussing the Cantrell findings.

"A parent saw that and told his attorneys to contact police," he said. "He's the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit (against Perry Funeral Home, Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center, among others)."

The 72-page lawsuit filed in Wayne County Circuit Court in July claims Perry Funeral Home, which is on Trumbull near Warren, stored the remains of stillborn and live birth babies in the Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science morgue for up to three years without trying to notify parents, some of whom wanted to donate the bodies for medical research.

The lawsuit further alleges that Perry "fraudulently and deceptively" billed Medicaid, the Detroit Medical Center/Harper-Hutzel Hospital and the state of Michigan for funeral services and burials that weren't performed.

Perry Funeral home attorney Joshua I. Arnkoff responded Friday, saying "at this time, I can’t comment any further other than to say that we dispute the allegations."

The suit was filed by attorneys for Rachel Brown and Larry Davis, the parents of Alayah Davis, who suffered from severe respiratory problems after her birth Dec. 8, 2014. She survived only 27 minutes.

The suit also claims Deak "fraudulently represented on Alayah's Certificate of Death that Alayah's body had been interred at Knollwood Memorial Cemetery, Canton, MI, when Perry knew that her remains, along with those of some additional 35-36 deceased infants and/or fetuses were being stored in the morgue at Wayne State University School of Mortuary Science.

"Perry additionally completed and filed at least seven additional false and fraudulent Delayed Certificates of Death as to other newborns who had died shortly after birth in Detroit area hospitals, indicating that their remains were buried at ... Knollwood Memorial Park Cemetery," the lawsuit said.

The attorneys in that lawsuit,  Peter J. Parks and Daniel W. Cieslak, attended a meeting Friday to discuss the allegations laid out in their lawsuit, Craig said.

"We're widening our investigation," Craig said. "We want to understand the reasons. Was it financial? We don't know."
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