NOBLE, Ga. – A third site of dumped bodies was discovered near a crematory where hundreds of corpses have been found, a medical examiner said at a news conference before he was interrupted by a newly imposed gag order.
Walker County District Attorney Buzz Franklin rushed into the news conference Thursday to distribute copies of the gag order just as Georgia state medical examiner Dr. Kris Sperry was talking about the discovery of more corpses at Tri-State Crematory.
The order, obtained by defense attorney Ken Poston, covers virtually everyone involved in the case, including witnesses, officials and investigators.
Before the order was delivered, Sperry said 283 bodies had been retrieved, and 54 of those had been identified. He was cut off before he had an opportunity to elaborate on the third site.
After spending five days in jail, crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh was scheduled to appear in Magistrate Court at a bond hearing Friday afternoon.
Marsh, 28, faces 16 counts of theft by deception for allegedly discarding hundreds of bodies instead of cremating them. More charges, including possible federal counts, are pending.
State officials said recovering and identifying bodies and cleaning up the site could cost far more than the $10 million estimate given earlier this week.
"There's just no way to even guess at a cost until we stop finding bodies. And we're finding them everywhere," Georgia Emergency Management Director Gary McConnell said.
The operation to recover human remains from pits, sheds, metal vaults and even a shallow lake near the crematory could take at least eight months, officials said.
Investigators said they plan to drain the lake, where they have already found a skull and a torso, as soon as the rest of the 16-acre site has been searched.
"We've got to make sure there aren't any bodies [buried] downstream of the lake before we dump 100,000 gallons of water out," McConnell said.
Georgia legislators who toured the crematory grounds Thursday said the scene was worse than they imagined.
"We saw the pits, we saw the bodies removed. It's indescribable," said Rep. Barbara Massey Reece of nearby Chattooga County.
Rep. Chuck Sims, a funeral director, said he cannot fathom how someone could treat dead bodies with such disrespect.
"These people probably all died of natural causes, but now it's almost like a trauma death," Sims said. "It's almost like they've been violated."
Another visiting lawmaker, Rep. Mike Snow, said he's authored a new bill that would tighten licensing and inspection requirements for crematories, and another that would make it a felony to desecrate or abuse a human corpse.
Snow, who represents the part of Walker County where Tri-State is located, introduced a bill in 1992 that would have exempted it from state inspection.
That bill went nowhere, but in 1995 Snow managed to gain passage for a measure that gave Tri-State's owners a two-year reprieve from regulation.