NOBLE, Ga. – With the number of bodies expected to reach 300, Georgia officials said they planned to drain a lake behind a defunct crematory where a partial skeleton was found Wednesday.
In the latest gruesome discovery, a torso and skull were found in water about 20 yards from the bank of the lake, Sheriff Steve Wilson said. Authorities were testing the lake's water for contamination and said they would not begin any draining for at least several days.
Lurking closer to the broken Tri-State Crematory was a shed containing six vaults. Searchers began opening the vaults Wednesday and Georgia's chief Medical Examiner Dr. Kris Sperry said there could be as many as 20 bodies in each vault.
As of midday Wednesday, searchers had found 242 bodies, only 35 of which have been positively identified.
The full recovery effort could take as long as eight months, said Gary McConnell, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.
The operator of the crematory, 28-year-old Ray Brent Marsh, remained in jail, charged with 16 counts of theft by deception for allegedly taking payment for cremations he never performed. Marsh does not yet have an attorney.
Meanwhile, distraught families continued turning over medical records and ashes they were told belonged to their relatives to help officials identify their relatives.
But of the 130 sets of ashes turned over so far, one was filled with dirt, 15 were at least partly filled with concrete dust and others contained potting soil, Sperry said.
Officials have subpoenaed natural gas records to determine the last time the crematory had been used.
Two lawsuits alleging fraud have been filed against the crematory.
Families continued turning over medical records and ashes they were told belonged to their relatives to help officials identify their relatives.
Some law enforcement officials said Marsh may be safer in jail because so many people are outraged that their relatives' bodies were left in piles or in the woods.
Johnny Johnson, who lives next door to Marsh, said Tuesday he never saw, heard or noticed anything suspicious, even though bodies were found just 100 yards from his property.
"It wasn't going on while we were here, so it must have been happening while we were at work," Johnson said.
"That's what's got me so messed up about this," he said. "I just don't know what motivated him to do this."
Tom Shaw, who drove from St. Joseph, Mo., to this rural town near Chattanooga, Tenn., after his mother's body was found, said Marsh "deserves to be put to death and then thrown out in a barn."
"He's lucky I was so far away when I first found out, because I was hot," Shaw said at a candlelight vigil Tuesday night at a Baptist church in Chickamauga.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.