Judge extends closure of Warren Funeral Chapel's locations

Monday, August 25, 2008 | 7:40 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Both of Warren Funeral Chapel's businesses will remain closed indefinitely while the owners, Harold Warren Sr. and Harold Warren Jr., and the state try to resolve a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon.

On Monday, Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane extended the injunction and set another hearing for Nov. 3, but the Warrens' attorney, Dan Viets, said he thought there was "a good chance" the case would be resolved by then.

Nixon's petition, filed July 25, states that inspectors found unsanitary conditions and improperly stored bodies at the Columbia funeral home, including that of a woman who died from hepatitis, was not embalmed and was not refrigerated for 10 months.

Both Viets and Scott Holste, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said they couldn't discuss the details of any potential arrangement.

Viets said he didn't expect the state to take any further legal action after Nixon's lawsuit is resolved. He said he plans to file a response this week to a lawsuit filed by Kathy Johnson against the Warrens. Johnson's lawsuit accuses the Warrens and Rock Bridge Cemetery caretaker Dave Turner of losing her mother's body.

Kathy Johnson's niece, Patricia Johnson, has filed a complaint against the Warrens with the attorney general, saying she still doesn't know where her sister's body is. She attended Monday's hearing.

As the hearing wrapped up, Patricia Johnson stood and asked when the affected families could speak in court. Crane told her she wouldn't get that opportunity in the case being heard Monday because she was not a party in the lawsuit, but that she could speak with the prosecutor.

Johnson went directly to the Boone County Prosecutor's Office.

Leaving the courthouse with tears in her eyes, Johnson said she wanted to press criminal charges against the Warrens.

"I want Mr. Warren to be held responsible for what he's done - disrespecting those dead bodies," she said.

No one at the prosecutor's office returned calls Monday to answer questions about whether action would be taken on Johnson's complaint.

She also took exception to the Warrens not appearing in court.

"(Warren) wasn't hiding behind his lawyer when he took our loved ones," she said. "He gave us service with a smile. ... Sooner or later, he's going to have to come out and deal with us."

The elder Warren was reached by phone but declined to comment.

Asked if the Warrens planned to continue in the funeral business, Viets said: "I don't know. That's an open question."

On Aug. 1, the Warrens turned over six bodies to the Boone County Medical Examiner's office. The bodies had been in storage at their funeral home in Fulton before being moved to Columbia.

Dori Burke, Boone County chief forensic investigator, said all the bodies turned over to authorities had been identified, cremated and returned to the families. Some of the 20 to 30 sets of cremated remains that the Warrens turned over to the medical examiner's office also have been identified and returned to families, she said. But the medical examiner's office still has at least two sets of cremains.

As of Monday, 22 people had filed complaints with the attorney general's office about Warren Funeral Chapel, Holste said.


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