State investigation launched into mishandling of dead man's body

CHEHALIS, Wash. -- Strangers in life, Jerry Moon had no reason to ever cross paths with Christina Hammond. He was 72 years old and living at a Longview hospice when he died on Oct. 13th; she was just 27 years old when she died during routine surgery in 2007.

Intertwined in death, their cases have raised questions about procedures at local funeral homes.

Moon's family attended his funeral this week, only to find another man's body in his casket, while Hammond's loved ones now say they received the wrong person's jewelry after her body was cremated, leading to questions of just whose remains they received.

Both families enlisted the services of Brown Mortuary Service in Chehalis.

"So it just makes you wonder, did we get the right ashes? Did we get somebody -- somebody else?," asked Hammond's mother, Tracy Scott. "Did we get - did we just get somebody else's jewelry or did we get somebody else's remains?"

Scott said Hammond died after her heart stopped on the operating table while having gallbladder surgery. The family had Hammond's body cremated, and say that when they got her ashes back, they also got back a bag of jewelry.

The jewelry belonged to someone else.

"I realize that people make mistakes, but you cannot mess up like that," said Christina's sister, Carrie.

Scott said she sent a letter of complaint to Dignity Memorial - the parent company of Brown Mortuary - but didn't hear back. A spokeswoman for the company said there is no complaint on file.

"Obviously if there was a problem we would've wanted to help the family," said Lisa Marshall, a spokeswoman for Dignity Memorial. "We have no record that there was an issue."

Hammond's case struck a chord with the family of Jerry Moon, who came forward earlier this week after a mix-up involving his burial. Moon's family was horrified Monday when they looked in the casket at his funeral and saw the body of another man. They later learned that Jerry had been cremated.

"He stressed to all of kids and his family: he did not want his body burned," said Jerry Johnson, Moon's stepson. "I pray(ed) to God they didn't cremate him, and turns out that's exactly what happened."

In regards to the new case, Brian Moon didn't mince words.

"Oh my god. You gotta wonder..." he said, his voice trailing off.

The state is trying to figure out who is to blame in the Moon case, said Christine Anthony, with the Washington state Department of Licensing.

"Right now we have opened an investigation into two funeral homes. We have investigators out meeting and interviewing with them today to try to figure out what happened," Anthony said. "This is, thankfully, a very rare situation. We probably only see something like this every 5-10 years."

Anthony said investigators were looking at Brown and at Dahl McVicker, a funeral home in Kelso. Moon's family said Dahl was responsible for transporting Jerry's body from a Longview hospice to Chehalis.

Late Thursday, a Brown spokeswoman said the fault did not lie with them.

"Apparently somehow the mix-up occurred with Dahl. Dahl handed over the wrong decedent to us, but all the identification accompanying the decedent was Jerry Moon. We assumed that it was (him)," said spokeswoman Lisa Marshall. "The family did not want to do a positive ID until after the service."

Ken Dahl, owner of Dahl McVicker, did not return calls for comment, but he told the Chehalis Chronicle Wednesday that his company "mistakenly cremated the body of Moon," the paper reported.

The state investigation into the Moon case will likely take several weeks, a spokeswoman said, adding that Brown has no record of complaints with the state. The parent company of Dahl, however, is currently the focus of a financial investigation, she said.

The investigation - and related emotional stress - has taken its toll on Moon's family, said Brian Moon.

"It hurts now when I see his face," Moon said. "But maybe his face on tv will stand for a good thing. Maybe something positive will come out of this."

"The more that gets exposed, the more will get fixed," he added.