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Detroit — In the latest twist to a wide-ranging investigation into funeral homes' disposition of infant and fetal remains, a police task force Monday removed 26 fetuses from a Detroit Medical Center morgue, all of which were allegedly mishandled by Perry Funeral Home.

Members of the Detroit police homicide task force executed a search warrant Monday at Detroit Receiving Hospital, where the DMC's morgue is located, Detroit police Chief James Craig said.

"This is a continuation into our criminal investigation into Perry Funeral Home," Craig said. "We removed 26 fetuses from the DMC."

Craig added: "DMC was not a target of this action."

DMC spokeswoman Tonita Cheatham said in an email: "We are working closely with local law enforcement in their ongoing investigation of Perry Funeral Home. The DMC has assisted law enforcement with the transfer of the unburied, Perry-related remains into their custody.”

Perry spokesman Tom Shields said Tuesday he would ask the funeral home's attorneys to comment, but he did not provide a response.

Twenty of the bodies taken from the DMC cooler had dates-of-birth listed from 1998 and earlier, with six dating to the 1970s, police sources told The Detroit News. The earliest date of birth accompanying a fetus was Aug. 11, 1971.

Investigators are trying to determine whether those dates represent the infants' or parents' dates of birth, sources said. Perry has contracted with area hospitals to handle unclaimed infant and fetal remains since at least the 1960s.

Only partial information was available about some remains because the bodies were decomposed, and identifying paperwork was either missing or too soiled to be legible, sources told The News.

Meanwhile, state authorities are looking into another case of dozens of infant remains allegedly lying unnoticed for years in a DMC hospital.

LARA since October has been investigating a tip from a former Harper-Hutzel Hospital employee that hospital officials in April 2015 found the dead bodies of more than 50 infants in a basement morgue.

The former hospital employee told The News and officials with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs that at least 20 of the babies had identification tags indicating they had been in the hospital morgue for more than 10 years.

LARA spokesman Jason Moon said Tuesday the state agency is investigating the former employee's claims.

"LARA received an anonymous complaint regarding the allegations ... and we are discussing it with law enforcement to determine whether our department has regulatory oversight over the issues addressed by the complainant," Moon said.

Cheatham did not respond to questions about the former employee's allegations.

LARA was not involved in Monday's search warrant, Moon said.

The 26 remains removed from the DMC morgue Monday were taken to a mortuary transport company.

One fetus among the 26 is listed as “Mary Doe” because there’s no identifying information about her, according to sources. 

Sources said Perry removed the remains from the hospital at some point, then returned them, and investigators are trying to figure out why. Paperwork at the morgue indicated Perry brought the remains back to the DMC morgue on July 28, 2017, sources told The News.

Monday's action was the latest development in a multi-tentacled investigation into the handling of infant and fetal remains.

The probe started in October, when Detroit police and LARA inspectors discovered 11 infant and fetal remains stored in a false ceiling at Detroit's Cantrell Funeral Home, after receiving a letter that also alleged fraud at the funeral home.

Craig said he launched the investigation because failing to properly dispose of remains more than 180 days after death is a felony in Michigan, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

When a man who was suing Perry and others for allegedly mishandling his daughter's remains saw news coverage of the Cantrell discovery, his attorneys alerted Detroit police. Police met with the attorneys and then expanded their investigation to include Perry Funeral Home.

The lawsuit being handled by the attorneys, Peter Parks and Daniel Cieslak, was granted class-action status in November after the lawyers argued there could be more than 200 mishandled remains.

The parents involved in the lawsuit had arranged for the remains of their stillborn or live-birth babies to go to Wayne State's medical school for research. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, many of the bodies ended up in Wayne State's morgue, which had a longstanding arrangement allowing Perry Funeral Home to store bodies in its cooler.

In June 2017, the university told Perry to remove the remains stored in the cooler because there wasn't enough room, and the remains were taken back to the funeral home.

On Oct. 19, Detroit police and LARA raided Perry and removed 63 fetuses, 36 of which were stored in an unrefrigerated box. Following the raid, LARA shut down Perry and suspended the mortuary science licenses of the funeral home and its director, Gary Deak.

In December, LARA moved to permanently revoke Cantrell's license, after state officials said they found "numerous acts of fraud, deceit, dishonesty, incompetence and gross negligence."

The alleged violations included reusing caskets, and knowingly making false statements on death certificates.

Knollwood Park Cemetery in Canton Township is also part of the investigation, which is being handled by a multi-jurisdictional task force involving Detroit police, Michigan State Police, the FBI, LARA and the Michigan Attorney General's Office.

In December, LARA officials halted all new activity at the cemetery, after inspectors found more than 300 improperly-stored infant and fetal remains in multiple crypts.

ghunter@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-2134
Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN

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