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Tuesday, 19 February, 2002, 15:13 GMT
US crematorium scandal deepens
Sign for Georgia crematorium with police car in background
Officials do not know why the bodies were not buried
Georgia state authorities say they have now recovered 139 bodies from the grounds of a crematorium in the town of Noble.

Dozens more remain to be dealt with.

Crematorium operator Ray Brent Marsh has been arrested for a second time on new criminal charges.

Sheriff Steve Wilson, who is leading the investigation, confirmed that more bodies had been found stacked up when another four concrete vaults were discovered.

Ray Brent Marsh
Investigators plan to search Marsh's entire 16-acre property
Veteran investigators have said they are still baffled why the owners decided to keep the bodies rather than incinerating them.

The gruesome discoveries at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble began on Friday when a human skull was unearthed by a dog.

Mr Marsh - who took over the crematorium from his parents in 1996 - has been charged with 11 new counts of theft by deception for accepting payment for cremations he did not perform. He was originally charged with five counts of the same offence.

He was re-arrested on Sunday night after being freed on $25,000 bail.

A bail hearing scheduled for Monday was delayed because Mr Marsh, 28, had not secured legal representation.

When asked why the bodies had not been cremated, he is reported to have told investigators that the incinerator was not working.

'No explanation'

Georgia's chief medical examiner Dr Kris Sperry said the authorities believed the crematorium had been dumping the corpses for up to 15 years.

"I wish we had a good explanation for this, but we don't."

So far 27 bodies have been identified.

It is thought the final total could exceed 200, with some bodies dumped as late as last week.

The BBC's Fergal Parkinson, who is in Noble, says people in the town are angry that this was allowed to take place without the knowledge of local authorities.

Families of the dead have been arriving in Noble. Many have brought with them urns that they thought contained the ashes of their loved ones.

However tests show that concrete, dust and pebbles are inside.

State of emergency

Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said that between 25 and 30 funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama had routinely sent bodies to Tri-State for cremation.

Georgia Governor Roy Barnes has declared a state of emergency and as many as 400 federal, state and county officials are reported to be working to recover remains at the site.

Investigators plan to search the entire 16-acre property and a small adjoining lake over the next two weeks.

BBC correspondents in the region say that Georgia state officials are testing the lake's water to see if it is safe for divers to search for further bodies.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Damian Grammaticus
"The grim work of uncovering the dead is endless"
Chris Fincher of Rome News-Tribune Newspaper
"They expect to find more than 200 bodies"
Walker County sheriff Steve Wilson
"I've never seen anything like this"
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