Mississippi Crematorium Searched, Owner Accused of Dumping, Mixing Bones

State investigators sifted through a trash bin Friday behind a crematorium whose owner is being investigated on allegations of dumping bones and ashes and, in at least one case, returning the wrong remains to grieving relatives.

An anthropologist bagged what appeared to be bone fragments and ashes from the funeral home's crematorium Friday. The Seepe Funeral Home and Crematorium came under scrutiny when a former employee came forward with pictures of what appeared to be the remains of several people dumped into a 55-gallon drum for disposal.

Mark Seepe, the owner, would not acknowledge reporters but stood next to the trash bin talking with investigators from the attorney general's office.

Investigators also went inside the one-story, red brick building in an industrial part of Mississippi's capital city. Authorities would not say what they found.

Fragments that appeared to be bone were scattered among broken bricks, mortar and a fine white dust in the trash bin Thursday when The Associated Press visited the site.

Lori Wilkinson, who alleged to authorities that Seepe was mishandling remains, said the owner recently had work done on the crematory. He planned to dump ashes and bones that had spilled from a broken retort, the part of the crematory that catches the ashes, she said. Other employees have come forward with similar claims.

Horrified families are afraid the remains they were given might not belong to loved ones.

The state Board of Funeral Service called for a criminal investigation after Wilkinson handed over dozens photographs March 17. The board has fielded dozens of calls from across the South from distraught families.

Charles Riles, the chairman of the funeral board, said Wilkinson's photographs show bones of more than one person mixed together. A proper cremation would leave no large bone fragments, he said.

Riles also said that Josh Hatten, another former crematorium employee, filed a complaint in November, claiming that Seepe gave remains to a family before their relative had been cremated. The family of the late Edwin Van Every is suing for $5 million.

After hundreds of corpses were found strewn around the property of a Georgia crematorium in 2002, legislators made it a felony in Mississippi to desecrate human remains, officials said.

Conviction of the crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood's office has declined to discuss laws dealing with human remains or whether Seepe might have violated state regulations.

Ray Brent Marsh, operator of the Tri-State Crematory in Georgia, was sentenced to 12 years in that state after authorities found 334 bodies scattered around his property.