The co-owner of the Forth Worth Funeral Home where police say eight unrefrigerated bodies — including an infant’s — were removed in varying stages of decay said Wednesday the funeral home may have failed at its job.
“Yes, we may have dropped the ball,” Johnson Family Mortuary owner Rachel Johnson told the family of Victoria Vasquez, whose body was left decomposing inside the funeral home for possibly more than a month. “But we have not neglected members of your family. We have not neglected anybody at Johnson Family Mortuary.”
The building’s landlord had evicted the business’ owners, and when workers checked on the building Tuesday morning, they found the unattended bodies, police said. The landlord contacted police, who then began investigating possible felony abuse of corpses.
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The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office said the bodies of six adult females removed from the funeral home have been identified. Two fetal remains, possibly a boy and a girl, have not yet been identified. No sign of trauma or foul play were found on the bodies, the examiner said. Officials said all of the remains, except one, showed advanced stages of decomposition.
The family of Victoria Vasquez wants answers and their $2,000 back. Johnson met with the family to apologize.
“Apparently, she wasn’t refrigerated,” said granddaughter Elizabeth Vasquez. “She hasn’t been cremated and the funeral was so unprofessional, so out of whack. I would wish this experience on my worst enemy.”
The landlord of the building let NBC 5’s Johnny Archer inside Johnson Family Mortuary on Wednesday morning. Archer said the first thing he noticed was a foul odor that was so bracing, he and his photojournalist had to wear masks.
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One of the landlord’s employees told NBC 5 an infant’s body was found in a plastic container, and several bodies were on stretchers or in caskets, none of them refrigerated.
State regulations require refrigeration for bodies kept longer than 24 hours. Police said the facility did not have any refrigerated rooms, but the building did have working electricity.
The Johnson Family Mortuary was started by twin brother Derrick and Dondre Johnson. While there have been no arrests or charges in the case Dondre Johnson was booked Wednesday into the Tarrant County Jail on a contempt of court charge for allegedly failing to pay child support.
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Johnson maintains he did nothing wrong.
“Business as usual, until our landlord came today and said he wanted to put us out,” he said on Tuesday.
But the landlord tells NBC 5 the Johnson Family Mortuary only paid rent once since March and that he initiated an eviction on July 1.
Court records show Dondre and Derrick Johnson lost a lawsuit filed in 2010 for not paying $159,730 in rent at another funeral home in south Fort Worth.
In addition, NBC 5 has learned that the funeral home has outstanding complaints with the state’s regulator and its license is on a “do not renew” status.
Among the reasons is the fact that the mortuary does not have a funeral director on staff. Smith said the former licensed funeral director left a month ago, and the funeral home should not have been doing business for the past month.
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NBC 5 has learned the funeral home has seven total complaints against them from the Texas Funeral Service Commission.
Kyle Smith, the staff attorney for the Texas Funeral Commission, said neither brother is licensed as a funeral director or embalmer and that Johnson Family Mortuary’s license is set to expire July 31.
The Johnson Family Mortuary license is held by Rachel Johnson, Dondre Johnson’s wife, according to the Texas Funeral Commission.
The Texas Funeral Commission said the twins could not get a license because the one for their prior business, D&D Mortuary Service, was revoked and canceled in September 2010 for monies owed to the Texas Funeral Commission and the state attorney general.
The commission says it cannot prevent Rachel Johnson from obtaining a license, since she does not owe monies to the commission and has no criminal background.
Police say the investigation is continuing.
NBC 5’s Don Peritz Jr. contributed to this report.