PORTLAND, Ore. – The discovery of dozens of corpses at a Georgia crematory has stirred up painful memories of the 1984 discovery of 51 bodies that were buried in mass graves or left in a garage at an Oregon cemetery.
Mortician Dale Omsberg was paid to cremate the bodies but disposed of the corpses on his land instead because he was apparently short of money.
At the time, the only state regulations on crematories were Department of Environmental Quality standards for air pollution. The state Legislature has since required that bodies be tracked through paperwork and a stainless-steel tag.
It's unclear if such measures could have prevented the abuses found at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga., where investigators so far have recovered 191 bodies that were left to rot in vaults and sheds.
Operator Ray Brent Marsh has been charged with 16 counts of theft-by-deception.
One of Omsberg's victims was Diane Bassett-Pohl, whose husband, Gerald Bassett, died of a heart ailment in September 1984.
"I made arrangements with the Omsberg cemetery. I thought, 'Oh, one's as good as the other.' I didn't know," she said Tuesday.
Bassett-Pohl was given an urn with ashes, which she scattered from an airplane over the Pacific Ocean according to her husband's wishes.
She later learned the ashes were human remains of a different person.
Omsberg was sentenced to 30 days in jail under a plea agreement that included his revealing to authorities the location of the mass graves, she said.
Bassett-Pohl was part of a task force to improve state regulation of the funeral industry. State law now requires that bodies be buried or cremated within 10 days of death.
Authorities were able to identify Gerald Bassett's remains and Bassett-Pohl repeated the final farewell.
"There's a feeling that the last thing you can do for somebody you love is a farewell," Bassett-Pohl said. "I feel for the people in Georgia so deeply. I know what they're going through."