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Sunday, 17 February, 2002, 15:32 GMT
Corpses scandal at US crematorium
Emergency personnel and investigators stand on the property of Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia
Investigators are continuing the search for more bodies
Police in the US state of Georgia have found more than 80 decomposed bodies at a crematorium.

The corpses were found stacked in storage sheds and scattered in the woods behind the crematorium in Noble, about 135 kilometres (85 miles) north-west of Atlanta.

Ray Brent Marsh - suspected of disposing of the bodies
When asked, Mr Marsh told police that the incinerator was not working
The police said some of the corpses were at least three years old. Some appeared to have been buried and then later exhumed.

The operator of the crematorium, Ray Brent Marsh, 28, has been arrested.

In the absence of any state laws prohibiting the desecration of corpses, Mr Marsh has been charged with theft by deception - for allegedly taking fees for cremations he did not carry out.

The worst horror movie you've ever seen - imagine that 10 times worse

Walker County Coroner Dewayne Wilson
Mr Marsh told police that the incinerator was not working, when police asked why the bodies had not been cremated.

Officials said the number of bodies could reach the hundreds.

Investigators are continuing the search while trying to establish the identities of the corpses they have already found.

Only 13 have so far been identified.

Some of the bodies still bore hospital identification tags.

Bones on the ground

The police were alerted after a woman walking her dog on Friday came across a human skull in woods behind the crematorium.

Investigators found bones on the ground and recently deceased bodies strewn inside the old wooden buildings.

Some were still in their coffins and burial clothes, local Sheriff Steve Wilson said.

"All we know for sure right now are the 80 bodies, and 13 of those have been identified," said John Bankhead, a spokesman for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

"But they've found so many other partial skeletal remains and evidence of graves, we don't know how many more are out there."

"At one time they apparently were buried in the ground in some other cemetery and were dug up and taken to the crematory," Mr Bankhead said.

Noble Sheriff Steve Wilson
Sheriff Wilson: Some of the bodies may have been there since 1996
The local coroner in the town of Noble described the scene as "the worst horror movie you've ever seen - imagine that 10 times worse".

Some of the bodies may have been there since 1996, when the man arrested took the business over from his father, Sheriff Wilson said.

There were some bodies found in rusty coffins, which could be up to a decade old.

The Tri-State Crematory dealt with 25 to 30 funeral directors in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

Call for prayer

Georgia chief medical examiner Dr Kris Sperry said the authorities suspected that Mr Marsh may have provided ashes from wood chips to clients who asked for their loved ones' ashes.

Dr Kris Sperry
Dr Kris Sperry (right) said Mr Marsh may have given relatives wood chip ashes
"You have a hard enough time when you lose somebody you love. This is like losing them all over again," said Chris Spears, an assistant pastor at the small town's Victory Tabernacle Church.

"At this point, I don't know what there is we can do except pray for the people who did it."

Tim Mason said his father, who died in December, was the first body to be identified.

"I just can't imagine," said Mr Mason.

"I mean I can see... getting a few days behind, [but] months, years? I just can't imagine anyone doing that. I'm real disappointed, that's for sure."

The BBC's Mark Turner
"Investigators were confronted with a scene of inconceivable horror"
See also:

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