- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

NOBLE, Ga. (AP) Grim-faced investigators yesterday unearthed dozens more corpses scattered around a northwest Georgia crematory, where skeletons were found sealed in vaults and bodies discovered that had been dragged into a shed. The count rose to 130.
Forensics teams said they had identified 22 bodies, and agents warned they expected to find many more.
"I can't even begin to guess" what the total will be, said Dr. Kris Sperry, the state's chief medical examiner.
Ray Brent Marsh, operator of Tri-State Crematory in this rural town 20 miles south of Chattanooga, Tenn., was arrested for a second time. Authorities filed 11 new theft-by-deception charges against him, bringing the total to 16.
Mr. Marsh, 28, had been arrested Saturday and was released from jail Sunday on $25,000 bond. He was back in Walker County jail yesterday. A bond hearing had not been scheduled because Mr. Marsh does not have an attorney, said Jerry Day, the chief magistrate.
Calls both to Mr. Marsh's home and the crematory went unanswered yesterday; voicemail boxes at both numbers were full.
As investigators combed the grounds, grief-stricken families arrived with urns of ashes, wondering whether loved ones they thought had been cremated were instead among the corpses.
Forensics experts studied 51 urns and said nine likely contained powdered cement rather than human remains, Dr. Sperry said. The other 42 appeared to be human remains, although it was unclear whose, he said.
"By the hour, this is getting bigger and bigger and bigger," the medical examiner said. "That's the toughest part. We do not know, and may never find out, the names of many of these people."
Walker County officials said they were calling in federal disaster mortuary teams to help erect a mass morgue to sort the bodies. More than 400 people were involved in the investigation.
The new body count of 130 was up from 97 a day earlier. Updated findings came after investigators opened four vaults hidden in a shed and found them full of bodies.
"The skeletons are all intermingled together," Dr. Sperry said.
The bodies have been discovered in varying conditions, some estimated to be weeks old and some decayed for more than a decade. Handlers had been "just merely dragging them out there or dropping them out there," Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said.
Investigators have said Mr. Marsh told them the bodies were not cremated because the incinerator was broken. The theft-by-deception charges are for taking payment for cremations that were not performed.
As the body count rose, agents said they had begun examining the records of Mr. Marsh and his parents, Ray and Clara Marsh, who apparently turned the business over to their son in 1996. The elder Marshes have not been charged.
In almost all cases, Tri-State Crematory had picked up the bodies from funeral homes and delivered ashes later in return, said Walker County coroner Dewayne Wilson, who is not related to the sheriff.
Initially, officials said they expected to find as many as 200 bodies.
Authorities cautioned they might never be able to identify all the bodies and all the ashes, partly because DNA testing is nearly impossible once a body has been cremated, Dr. Sperry said.
Sheriff Wilson said authorities want relatives of people whose bodies had been sent to the crematory to provide any information that might help identify their loved ones, including surgical scars and dental records.
He said investigators were "bagging and tagging" the bodies as they find them.


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