Requests flood funeral home handling Cantrell remains

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
The south entrance of the former Cantrell Funeral Home along Mack Avenue is seen on Saturday October 13, 2018. The remains of 11 infants were found hidden in a ceiling compartment inside .

Grosse Pointe Park — A funeral home handling the cremated remains of 269 people found at a Detroit funeral home has been flooded with inquiries a day after releasing the names in hopes of finding relatives. 

A list of 230 names of remains found at Cantrell Funeral Home was released Tuesday by the Verheyden Funeral Home, which has taken over handling the remains and 500 pre-arranged funerals from Cantrell. 

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Brian Joseph, owner of funeral home in Grosse Pointe Park, said they launched an effort to find next of kin who may want to retrieve the remains or attend funeral services. The funeral home has fielded hundreds of inquiries, he said. He called the response overwhelming.

"I cannot impress upon you the amount of phone calls, emails, coming in off the hook," Joseph said. "We contacted 200 families ... and so many of those phone numbers were disconnected, we couldn't find them, and now it's like, here they come. Thank goodness."

Joseph said he received 90 inquiries on Wednesday. 

"The vast majority are appreciative, thankful," he said. "Some still want them to be placed at Mount Olivet, and others want to bring them home," Joseph said. "It's powerful ... the good that's coming out of the tragic situation, and how the media helped."

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The 269 containers of cremated remains were found in April by the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs after it launched an investigation into Cantrell on Detroit's east side.

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" 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.

"Professionally, I can only say it's gross negligence," Joseph said. "It doesn't follow any mottos or oath of funeral service. We don't have answers now, but they're going to have to answer when they face our maker."

Service for cremated remains

The funeral home plans to have a service on Nov. 2, All Souls' Day, for 230 of the remated remains at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Detroit. 

The remains will be placed in a crypt in a mausoleum. Officials have not decided how the crypt will be identified, said Michael Chilcote, COO of Mount Elliott Cemetery Association.

"We have a design on how to put multiple cremated remains in one space and memorialize them as well," Chilcote said. "We aren't burying them because (if) some of these families do come forward in the future and we want to be able to retrieve them."

Service for veterans 

The remains of 30 military veterans will be given a separate service on or close to Veteran's 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 along Interstate 75. The remains will be laid to rest with military honors, Joseph said.  

Names of the veterans were expected to be released Thursday after the Veterans Administration in St. Louis and Washington, D.C., confirm their military service. 

On Thursday, the cremated remains will depart from a state mortuary in Flint and be escorted by Selfridge Air National Guard to Verheyden Funeral Homes in Grosse Pointe Park. Six hearses each will carry a casket with the remains of all the bodies found at Cantrell. One casket alone will hold the remains of the veterans and will be draped with an American flag. The casket will be carried by an honor guard. 

"This will be the beginning of their military honors they deserve," Joseph said.
Twitter: @SarahRahal_