Relatives sought for remains found at Cantrell Funeral Home
Grosse Pointe Park — Of the 269 cremated remains recovered by state inspectors inside the Cantrell Funeral Home, names of 230 have been released to The Detroit News on Tuesday in hopes of finding relatives.
Brian Joseph, owner of Verheyden Funeral Homes in Grosse Pointe Park, said they have launched an effort to find next of kin who may want to retrieve the remains or attend funeral services.
"We've contacted about 200 families ... 40 percent of those people have wrong numbers," Joseph said. "Fourteen of those families have committed to receiving their family members, and God bless them."
The 269 containers of cremated remains were found in April by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs after launching an investigation into the east-side funeral home.
There, investigators found two embalmed bodies left in caskets in the garage since the end of 2017. A third body also was found, held by Cantrell from January to April while families paid for the services, and "more than 20 bodies awaiting final disposition," were covered in mold, LARA said. Officials found a box of fetal remains on Aug. 29. An anonymous letter led them to the remains of 11 infants on Oct. 12. It's unclear why the remains were left at the funeral home, some for as long as two decades.
The findings led Detroit police to open an investigation into alleged wrongdoing at Detroit funeral homes. On Friday, investigators removed 63 fetuses from Perry Funeral Home on Trumbull Avenue.
Of the 269 containers found in Cantrell, 52 of them were unidentifiable, and 26 have been identified as veterans, and more are pending military authentication, Joseph said.
"To paraphrase holy Father Francis, it's our obligation to help those marginalized and ones in need ... these remains were put in a building somewhere. It's our duty," he said. "If we can't bury our dead, we are no better than a Third World country."
The state transferred the remains to Preferred Removal Services. They will be given to Verheyden Funeral Homes to be claimed by next of kin. The list of names was provided to Verheyden Funeral Homes by Preferred Removal Services.
Verheyden Funeral Homes is three miles from the former Cantrell Funeral Home. Joseph said the funeral home initially got involved after owner Raymond Cantrell II asked him to take over an excess of 500 pre-arranged and pre-funded funerals after he closed in the summer.
The earliest of those identified dates back to 1998. Joseph said their goal is to try to identify and find the relatives because "it's our obligation to help."
"We may not have all the answers, but we want to be part of the solution," Joseph said. "There's a lot of bad things going on, but let's get these 269 people put to rest."
The funeral home plans to have a service on Nov. 2, All Souls' Day, for the cremated remains at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit. The nearly 30 military veterans will be given their own service on or close to Veterans Day at Great Lakes National Cemetery in Holly. Each will be given their own hearse from the Grosse Pointe Park funeral home, and a procession will be escorted by Michigan State Police through Interstate 75. The remains will be laid to rest with military honors, Joseph said.
"Our 35 staff members of Verheyden work tirelessly, day in and day out, to help connect these people when I brought this to them," Joseph said. "This is heartbreaking. A crisis of this magnitude is beyond understanding. It's not moral, it's gross negligence and it occurred in our community.
"The magnitude of the women that have called have never forgotten their child."
Below is a database of names and dates of death provided by Verheyden Funeral Homes. If you are a relative or knew any of the people listed, contact Brian Joseph, Verheyden Funeral Homes, at (313) 821-9040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a relative of one of the deceased and would like to share your story with The Detroit News, email email@example.com.