Funeral home finds bullet holes in Kansas City man after death ruled natural

Thursday, February 26, 2009 | 5:56 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — The death of a man who police and a medical examiner had said was the result of natural causes has been ruled a homicide after a funeral home found three bullet holes in his body.

The Kansas City Star reported Thursday that the wounds — two of them in Anthony Crockett's head — were noticed by funeral home workers after the man's body was embalmed Friday. The funeral home returned the 49-year-old Kansas City man's body to the Jackson County medical examiner's office, and police counted the death as a homicide.

It was the second time in 17 months that a Kansas City funeral home had to return a homicide victim's body mistakenly ruled a natural death by the medical examiner's office.

The other case was in September 2007 and involved Lorraine Grayson, 77, who had been beaten and sexually assaulted in her home. Police later found out that Grayson's purse was missing, and her 46-year-old neighbor was charged with her death.

"This kind of mistake is a pretty bad mistake," said Thomas Young, the former Jackson County medical examiner who now runs a private forensic pathology practice.

In Crockett's case, a homicide detective and an investigator from the medical examiner's office never visited his home to inspect his body. A paramedic told police he believed the death was natural after finding prescription containers for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Crockett's girlfriend, who had called police after finding his body, told authorities that he had had heart problems for years.

Jeph BurroughsScanlon, a Jackson County spokesman, said standard protocol was followed in Crockett's case, but he added that the county is concerned and looking into its practices.

Police also plan to study their practices.

"We're going to be reviewing how we handle these kinds of cases, to see if anything needs to be changed," said Capt. Rich Lockhart, a Kansas City police spokesman. "It's a system problem, and we need to figure out where the breakdown in the system occurred."

Police responding to the call noted blood on his face, but victims can bleed from natural causes or have blood on them from a fall.

A paramedic showed a police officer Crockett's medications and said he thought the death was natural.

The officer called a homicide detective and medical examiner investigator.

The investigator called Crockett's doctor, who said she would sign the death certificate.

But the doctor, Ghazal Shaikh, told The Star that she never did sign the certificate and agreed to only after she was told the death was natural.

Police said that homicide detectives don't usually respond to reports of bodies where the death is found to be natural, and that even if one did, it would be up to the medical examiner to inspect the body.

Forensic evidence was not collected from Crockett's house, and the body was released to the funeral home.

Employees there became suspicious of a round hole in Crockett's head but didn't immediately act because the case had been ruled a natural death.

The next day, the chief embalmer found two other bullet wounds and discoloration from trauma that had not been visible Friday.

Police then secured Crockett's house as a crime scene, but relatives already had cleaned it.

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