QUINCY (CBS13) — The body of a 58-year-old logger vanished after his open-casket funeral in August of 2018. Nearly nine months after his services, the badly decomposed remains were found in a detached garage next to Quincy’s only funeral home.
“The refrigeration had gone out and they smelt the body.” said brother, Mike Henry.
After Phillip Henry suddenly died in the summer of 2018, the family had a viewing service. He was unembalmed as part of his Native American culture.
Fehrman’s Funeral Home and Crematorium was then to cremate Phillip, before a traditional Native American burial. But within weeks, tragedy rocked this quaint mountain town. John Ferhman, Quincy’s only funeral director, died.
“Everybody knows him, he’s the family mortician,” said Mike Henry.
It rattled the town and Mike’s family, who never got Phillip’s cremated remains. So where were they?
Fehrman’s surviving family members didn’t know, nor did the Plumas County Sheriff’s Coroner, or the State Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.
“We just wanted him back,” said Henry.
No answers through the winter, then spring, until the week before Memorial Day Weekend, and that foul odor coming from the garage next to the funeral home. Inside was Phillip’s body.
“It was pretty horrific. Nobody looked in the freezer. That would have been one of the first places I would have looked. Besides the crematorium” said Henry.
The refrigerator was not working, according to authorities.
“That’s what hurt the most, is them not even taking the time to even look and tell me he wasn’t there when he was there the whole time,” Henry said.
Plumas County’s Sheriff-Coroner Greg Hagwood says Fehrman’s surviving family members, who are not licensed funeral professionals, transferred the cases to another funeral home, and somehow missed Phillip’s body.
“It’s troubling. It’s sad. It’s really heartbreaking for the family” said Sheriff Hagwood.
He says his department didn’t help with the transfer of remains because it falls under the state Cemetery and Funeral Bureau’s jurisdiction. It’s the same agency Mike Henry handwrote in February about the loss of his brother’s ashes. But he says within weeks, the investigator closed the case, without finding his brother’s remains.
“I thought it was pretty unprofessional. Why didn’t he push to find out where they were?” asked Henry.
Gina Sanchez is head of the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. She declined our request for an interview, but claims after Mike’s complaint in February, her agency opened a desk investigation into the location of cremated remains. Her staff closed the case without ever going to the funeral home. In a statement she said:
“…all business records pertaining to his licensed mortuary had been seized by the Fehrman family’s attorney and removed from the establishment. As a result, the complainant was notified about the inability of the CFB to access the business records of the mortuary needed to determine who had received the remains he was seeking. As is customary, the field rep informed the complainant that he may want to seek legal advice in the event he wanted to pursue civil action.”
The state insists it was only looking for cremated remains, not a body.
Two days after we requested information in this case, the agency issued a series of citations against the funeral home saying the representatives for the Fehrman’s “displayed gross negligence in the handling of the remains of decedent (PHILLIP HENRY), subjecting the family to unnecessary delays and anguish.” Read the citations here.
The sheriff calls this case troubling. “Put the family through a horrible experience and it shouldn’t have happened,” said sheriff Hagwood
“I just don’t understand. Why not some compassion from those people?” said Mike Henry.
The Fehrman family attorney, Emily De Meo, sent us this statement saying, in part, “The simple fact is that the funeral director of the small mortuary passed away. The remains at issue were maintained in cold storage facilities at the funeral home. After family members were appointed executors of the estate and were provided access to business records, they worked with the Department of Consumer Affairs and the County Coroner to have the remains transferred.”
Mike Henry retrieved dental records to help with his brother’s identification. Despite being advised against it, he viewed his brother’s decomposed remains. He talks about that experience in this video.
In their culture cremation is cleansing. Phillip is now cremated.
“He’s going to be with his family,” said Mike Henry.
He’s now laid to rest in an Indian burial site near Lake Almanor.
“A lot of weight was lifted off of my shoulders,” said Mike Henry. “He’s safe and he’s where he’s supposed to be.”
CEMETERY AND FUNERAL BUREAU STATEMENT
“The Cemetery and Funeral Bureau was not initially informed about the passing of licensee John Fehrman. The Bureau became aware of his death, receiving a complaint that alleged cremated remains had not been returned to the correct family member. However, due to a pending court proceeding, the allegation that remains were improperly released could not be proven or disproven and the Bureau informed the complainant that the case was being closed.
The Bureau was later notified of a full-body decedent at the establishment, and a Bureau representative went to the business. The doors were locked. Over the course of days, the Bureau representative was barred from entry (cited in I-2019-238/239 regarding communication with the Fehrman family and attorney). In the alternative, the Bureau contacted the county coroner’s office, under whose authority the body was recovered and transported for identification and eventual release to the family.
There are currently no applications on file for any of these locations, and the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau is working to ensure that business is not being conducted there. Any consumer who believes they have engaged, or have been solicited to engage, the services of an unlicensed funeral establishment or cremation business should contact the Bureau immediately.”
CEMETERY AND FUNERAL BUREAU ANSWERS TO CALL KURTIS QUESTIONS
Who informed CFB of the discovery of the body and when?
On April 30, 2019, the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau (CFB) was contacted by Ms. Emily DeMeo, attorney for the Fehrman estate. She stated that in cold storage at the Fehrman mortuary, located at 378 Lawrence Street, Quincy, CA 95971, there was an unnamed, full-body decedent. A CFB Field Representative (field rep) was assigned, and the following business day, May 1, 2019, that field rep took the investigative steps outlined in response to your other questions below. The unnamed decedent was investigated as a separate incident from the February 19, 2019 complaint regarding the location of cremated remains. At that time, CFB had no information that the two investigations would lead to the same decedent.
On what dates did CFB try to access facility tied to cremated remains? What happened?
On February 19, 2019, the CFB received a complaint requesting information on the whereabouts of a decedent’s cremated remains. In response to this complaint, the CFB opened a desk investigation. The opening of a desk investigation is typical for this type of complaint and is specific to contract disputes that require the submission of documents from the mortuary to either substantiate or refute the allegations. This desk investigation required the submission of documents to determine if the licensee had honored the contractual terms of the agreement and therefore did not require the CFB to access the facility.
The complainant stated in that February 19, 2019 complaint that he had already spoken to the Plumas County Sheriff’s office before contacting the CFB. The complainant informed CFB that he knew about the death of Mr. Fehrman (the CFB licensee), the family dispute, and stated he may have to “press charges.” The field rep left a message for the complainant on February 28, 2019. The complainant returned CFB’s call on March 4, 2019, wherein he informed us the cremated remains may have inadvertently gone to another family member. Meanwhile, the CFB learned that because of
Mr. Fehrman’s passing, his estate was going through the probate process, and all business records pertaining to his licensed mortuary had been seized by the Fehrman family’s attorney and removed from the establishment. As a result, the complainant was notified about the inability of the CFB to access the business records of the mortuary needed to determine who had received the remains he was seeking. As is customary, the field rep informed the complainant that he may want to seek legal advice in the event he wanted to pursue civil action.
On what dates did CFB try to access facility tied to the body (full-body decedent)? What happened?
In the days following her April 30, 2019 phone call, a field rep attempted to contact Ms. DeMeo and the Fehrman family in order to gain access to the mortuary and recover the body she had reported to be in cold storage there. The field rep made several attempts to contact the parties associated with this mortuary, but all of those attempts proved unsuccessful. After no response, the field rep went to the location at 378 Lawrence Street, Quincy, CA 95971 on Friday May 3, 2019 and found the establishment locked. The CFB investigator noted there was a business contact number posted on the door, but that number was disconnected.
After repeated attempts to contact the Fehrman family and Ms. DeMeo, the field rep finally spoke with the daughter of Mr. Fehrman on Friday, May 10, 2019. She informed the field rep that they did not know who the decedent was. Standard procedure when a decedent is unknown is to involve the coroner. This procedure is consistent with the statutory requirements of the Government Code and Health & Safety Code (HSC) regarding custody of human remains, and the duties of the coroner, generally. (See HSC Â§Â§, 7050.5, subd. (b), 7102; Government Code Â§ 27471, subd (a) [Whenever the coroner takes custody of a dead body pursuant to law, he or she shall make a reasonable attempt to locate the family.].)
The next business day, Monday, May 13, 2019, the CFB left a message for the Plumas County Chief Deputy Coroner and spoke with Sergeant Steve Peay later that day. Sergeant Peay informed the field rep that he would work with the Fehrman family to ascertain the condition of the decedent. On May 21, 2019, the CFB was notified by Ms. DeMeo that the Fehrman family was working with the coroner. Additionally, Ms. DeMeo disclosed to the CFB that the mortuary’s cold storage was not operational.
Did CFB specifically request the sheriff/coroner’s assistance in accessing the facility in the search for cremated remains? If so, when, with whom, and what was the response?
As is standard, the CFB did not request the coroner’s assistance with the complaint of February 19, 2019 regarding what the CFB believed, at that time, to be a failure to fulfill the contractual terms for cremated remains. Please note, a coroner’s office only gets involved when there is an unknown full-body decedent which usually consists of a lack of documentation to identify the decedent.
The Sheriff does not believe anyone from CFB tried to access facility prior to the recovery of the body (full-body decedent). We welcome any and all info to dispute this.As stated in the previous question, after being informed a full-body decedent was in cold storage on April 30, 2019, a field representative went to the establishment on May 3, 2019. That field rep noted the facility was locked, and the business number was posted on the door, but that number had been disconnected.
The criticism from the family is that CFB closed this case before any (cremated) remains were recovered. How do you respond?
Regrettably, the CFB was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion for the February 19, 2019 complainant regarding cremated remains. Prohibiting the CFB from gaining access to the mortuary’s premises is a direct violation of the Cemetery and Funeral Act (See Business and Professions Code Â§ 7607) and may subject a licensee to disciplinary action, including revocation of their license. The CFB strives to ensure protection of California consumers through our investigative process, however, the passing of licensee Mr. Fehrman, and the ensuing probate matter, hindered the CFB’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation of the cremated remains.
PLUMAS DEPUTY CORONER STEVE PAEY STATEMENT
We were attempting to assist Fehrman Mortuary with connecting a file and paper work with a body that was not labeled with identification. The remains were left in the refrigerator by someone in the Fehrman family with no notification to anyone for several months.
Steve Fehrman essentially related to me the remains in the refrigerator were possibly one of three individuals whose deaths had previously been investigated and death certificates issued. With that information from Steve Fehrman this did not fit the definition of what the Sheriff’s Office would investigate as a “Coroner’s case”. An immediate response was not necessary and I decided to wait until Steve Fehrman could travel to Quincy to assist him with identifying the remains. I had no idea the refrigeration unit was not functioning on the May 13th phone call with Steve Fehrman.