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New complaint filed against Warrens

Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | 9:23 p.m. CDT; updated 10:28 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 8, 2008

An article on page 1A Tuesday about the Warren Funeral Chapel contained some incorrect information.
Some of Patricia Johnson’s family voted for Harold Warren Sr. for city councilman in the 1970s. The article incorrectly identified which family members voted for Warren.
Also, Patricia Johnson said Dave Turner told her three different locations where her sister was buried on three different occasions. The article incorrectly identified when Turner told her the information.
Also Patricia Johnson has been using the Warren Funeral Chapel for funeral arrangements since 1989. The article incorrectly identified the year.

A second person has filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office against Warren Funeral Chapel, its owners and Dave Turner, who is affiliated with Rockbridge Cemetery.

The complaint, filed by Patricia Johnson of Columbia on Tuesday, states they mishandled her sister's body. She said she also plans to file a lawsuit against those same parties.

Timeline of events

 March 16, 2006 - Kathy Johnson enters into an agreement with Warren Funeral Chapel and the Warrens in which they are to take care of the remains of her mother, Beckie Harris, according to her lawsuit.

September 2006 - Warren Jr. files for bankruptcy protection for Warren Funeral Chapel. The case is still pending.

October 2006 - Warren Sr. and Helen Warren file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection.

Feb. 28 - Warren Jr. takes over for Warren Sr. as funeral director in charge.

July 10 - Patricia Johnson said she, Kathy Johnson and Warren Jr. walked through Rockbridge Cemetery. Warren Jr. says he will put stakes in the ground so the Johnsons know where there are caskets buried.

July 11 - Inspectors find a woman's decaying body in an electrical room in the Columbia funeral chapel. She had died in September of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and alcoholic hepatitis. A second body is found lying on a cot that had not been embalmed.

July 12 - Dave Turner calls the sheriff's department because he found stakes in the ground marking where the graves are. He says he thinks Kathy Johnson might have placed the stakes there, according to the report.

July 16 - Inspectors find more problems at the funeral chapel.

July 20 - Patricia Johnson walks through the cemetery with Turner and a sheriff's deputy. No report was  filed because there was no incident, the sheriff's department said.

July 25 - Attorney General Jay Nixon files a lawsuit against both Warrens and the funeral chapel.

July 30 - The Warrens agree to a temporary restraining order that effectively shuts down their Fulton and Columbia funeral chapels.

Aug. 1 - Kathy Johnson files a lawsuit against the Warrens and Dave Turner, who is affiliated with Rockbridge Cemetery. Six more bodies are transported to Columbia from the Warrens' Fulton chapel.

Aug. 3 - The NAACP holds a fundraiser for the Warrens.

Aug 5 - Patricia Johnson files a complaint with the attorney general's office against Warren Funeral Chapel, its owners and Turner, and says she plans to file a lawsuit against the same parties.

 



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Johnson said the complaint describes her discontent with the funeral arrangements and manner in which Harold Warren Sr. and Harold Warren Jr. handled her sister Mable Lee Mercer-Shelley's body.

She said they couldn't tell her the location of the body in the cemetery, and she wants to know why the cemetery keeps being dug up.

"The main thing is that I want to know why they keep digging up where my sister is supposed to be buried," she said. "Is she even in the ground?"

Johnson said she is worried that her sister might be one of the unidentified bodies handed over to investigators on Friday.

On Tuesday, Boone County Medical Examiner Dori Burke released the name of one of the six bodies that Dan Viets, the Warrens' attorney, said were moved from Fulton to Columbia to comply with the authorities.

Burke said Tasha Loggins of Columbia, who died at age 25, was released to her mother Monday.

The office has names for the other five bodies but has not released them because they have not been identified by family members, Burke said.

After her sister died, Johnson said, the Warrens suggested she use Rockbridge Cemetery rather than a family plot in Charleston, Mo.

When she first spoke to Turner, she said he identified himself to her first as the owner and then as the caretaker of the cemetery.

Viets said the Warrens suggested several cemeteries but did not care which one their clients chose.

"He has no reason to care," Viets said.

Viets said the Warrens are not affiliated with Turner except that sometimes their clients choose to use Rockbridge Cemetery.

"They have no interest of any nature in Mr. Turner's business," he said.

Turner could not be reached for comment.

The family buried Mercer-Shelley in November.

Johnson said that she doesn't know where her sister might be buried, and that when she asked Turner, he could not tell her the grave's location.

Johnson also said when she asked Turner about the graves she saw being dug up on several visits to the cemetery, he told her that people sometimes change their minds and have their loved ones moved to other cemeteries.

On a later visit, Johnson said she walked through the cemetery with a sheriff's deputy and Turner. On separate occasions, Turner pointed to three grave sites that might contain her sister - G13, G16 and G17. She said that Turner has not been answering her calls.

"I want whoever is in charge to talk to me face to face," she said.

On July 30, the Warrens agreed to a temporary restraining order, meaning their chapels in Columbia and Fulton will be closed until a hearing on Aug. 12.

On Friday, Kathy Johnson, Patricia Johnson's aunt, filed a separate suit against the Warrens, the funeral home and Turner.

Patricia Johnson said her family has worked with the Warrens since the late 1960s, and she has worked with them since 1989 to make arrangements for deceased family members. She said the elder Warren was highly respected in the black community.

She said some of her family supported Warren when he became the first black city councilman in Columbia in 1973.

"We looked up to him as a leader," she said. "I trusted him and believed in him."

The respect he earned helped his funeral home as well, she said. "That's why a lot of black people supported him and his business."

But Johnson said she lost a lot of respect for Warren Funeral Chapel after the Warrens' work at Mercer-Shelley's funeral. Promises of a hearse and family cars on the way to the cemetery went unfulfilled, she said.

"They put my sister in back of a dead, dirty Suburban," Johnson said. "We was heated."

When they arrived at the cemetery, it "was a mess," she said. "We weren't pleased at all" about Rockbridge Cemetery, which she said the elder Warren assured her was a "nice, clean cemetery."

Johnson said she hopes that, by making her problems public, she will encourage others to speak up.

"I want every single person in Columbia and the surrounding areas that had any dealings with Warrens' funeral homes ... or any dealings with Rockbridge Cemetery to come forward," she said. "Let's help each other."

 


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