- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2005

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Convicted double murderer Russell Wayne Wagner died Feb. 7 of a heroin overdose in prison. Nearly six months later, his cremated remains were placed at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors despite a prohibition on such ceremonies for felons.

On Thursday, as cemetery officials reviewed the situation, the son of Wagner’s victims said he’d like Wagner’s ashes removed from the vault in which they were placed July 27.

“With the heroes we’ve got coming back from this war now, he don’t need to be down there,” Vernon G. Davis said. “It’s almost ridiculous.”

Wagner died while serving two consecutive life terms at the Maryland House of Correction Annex in Jessup for the murders of Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80, on Valentine’s Day 1994. They were found bound and stabbed in their ransacked Hagerstown home, victims of a burglary that turned brutal.

Cemetery spokeswoman Lori Calvillo told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail on Wednesday that Wagner’s Army service, from 1969 to 1972, qualified him for Arlington, but that a felony conviction bars one from having a service there. She said there was no indication that the cemetery knew of Wagner’s conviction when it accepted his remains and that the case would likely be reviewed by the Army Office of the General Counsel.

Wagner’s remains took a convoluted route to the sprawling military cemetery in Northern Virginia where more than 260,000 military members, veterans and dignitaries are buried. He was found unresponsive in his cell Feb. 2 and died Feb. 7 at 52 of what the state medical examiner determined was a heroin overdose.

Eight days later, the Office of the Medical Examiner turned Wagner’s unclaimed remains over to the State Anatomy Board, which takes custody of unclaimed remains and cremates them for interment in a pauper’s cemetery in Sykesville, Md.

But on the same day it received Wagner’s remains, the board received an e-mail from a family member, Bill Anderson of Silver Spring, whose wife, Karon, is Wagner’s sister, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press. Mr. Anderson told Anatomy Board Director Ronald S. Wade that the family couldn’t afford a regular funeral, but wanted to receive Wagner’s ashes after cremation.

Mr. Anderson also mentioned that Wagner had been a prisoner. Mr. Wade said yesterday that family members of deceased inmates often seek funeral assistance from the state; unclaimed military veterans who die behind bars can be buried in a state veterans’ cemetery, for example.

But Mr. Wade said the request for Wagner’s ashes was unusual.

“I called Mr. Anderson. I explained that we’re not a cremation service. And they were notified that there would need to be some sort of exceptional situation — that I would take that into consideration,” Mr. Wade said.

So Mr. Anderson sent another e-mail, stating that another of Wagner’s sisters, Marian Stull, was a diabetic invalid who hoped to scatter her brother’s ashes in the Hagerstown area.

“We are planning to have a memorial service for Russell in the hospital chapel and then dispose of the ashes as she wishes,” Mr. Anderson wrote.

Mr. Wade found those circumstances so compelling that he honored the Andersons’ request on April 23 and waived the fees — as much as $300 — normally charged to family members who claim remains after learning belatedly of a death.

“The idea when we released the ashes was that it would be a private family service. There was no indication it would be a military service,” Mr. Wade said.

The service at Arlington was authorized June 29 at Karon Anderson’s request.

Marian Stull died July 25, two days before the service, according to an obituary in the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

The Andersons didn’t return calls yesterday from the Associated Press.

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