Suit planned against former funeral director who allegedly dumped bodies!
The Patriot Ledger
By Neal Simpson
WEYMOUTH – A Florida law firm says it is preparing a class-action lawsuit against a former funeral director accused of defrauding customers and dumping a dozen bodies in a Weymouth storage unit.
Joseph V. O’Donnell, the former director of the now-defunct O’Donnell and Mulry Funeral Home in Dorchester, is already facing 278 criminal charges, including multiple counts of improper disposal of human remains, embezzlement and acting as a funeral director without a valid license. Now, David H. Charlip, an attorney whose firm specializes in funeral law and death care, says he is preparing to bring civil action against O’Donnell on behalf of the unknown number of people whose loved ones’ remains may have have been misplaced or mishandled by him.
Charlip says his firm has been retained by Gina Hinckley, a Massachusetts woman who has been trying to figure out what happened to the remains of her father, Edward Hinckley, after they were turned over to O’Donnell to be cremated. Hinckley’s family had buried what they believed were his remains in the National Cemetery in Bourne after his death in 2012, but investigators later found evidence suggesting that Hinckley’s ashes may have been given to the family of a Dorchester woman who died around the same time.
“The family is obviously suffering through severe emotional stress in that the remains they thought were Mr. Hinckley’s they are now told were not and they don’t know where the remains are,” Charlip said.
O’Donnell was initially arrested on a larceny charge in April 2014 after police say he took $12,000 in pre-payments from an elderly couple, then closed up shop and was unable to refund their money. But when investigators went to search his storage unit in Weymouth three months later, they say they found a dozen bodies, some decomposing, stashed in boxes and caskets.
Prosecutors have since accused O’Donnell of defrauding dozens of people, including many who came to him in grief after losing a loved one, while illegally working as a funeral director after his license expired in 2008. In some cases, prosecutors say O’Donnell never bothered to cremate the remains entrusted to him and later gave families ashes that had come from someone else.
Investigators have spent more than a year trying to determine where those ashes came from, a task made nearly impossibly because the cremation process destroys DNA evidence, and O’Donnell’s record-keeping is considered unreliable. It’s not known how many remains he may have misplaced, but prosecutors say O’Donnell had handled 201 bodies after his funeral director license expired.
Charlip said the number of potential plaintiffs for his lawsuit could be in the thousands because each person whose remains were mishandled by O’Donnell could have several family members who are affected. He said these kinds of cases are particularly painful for loved ones of the deceased because they violate their sense of having provided a “final resting place.”
“There is a terrible sense of loss – above and beyond the loss of losing a loved one – when you feel, number one, you’ve failed to fulfill their last wishes and, number two, you don’t know where they are,” he said.
Charlip said the defendants in the lawsuit could include a non-profit organization that he says may have arranged to send the people it served to O’Donnell; a Boston funeral home where he believes O’Donnell was allowed to work; and the state’s Division of Professional Licensure, which is responsible for licensing funeral home directors.
Charlip said his firm is still working to to identify potential plaintiffs and build a case against O’Donnell. He said his firm is preparing a complaint that would be filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the same court where O’Donnell is facing criminal charges.
“We’re trying to move quickly, but we never like to shoot from the hip,” he said. “We’re trying to gather as much information from as many of the affected individuals as possible.”