Funeral Industry News

Missing Body Parts Lead to Huge Lawsuit

December 15, 2010
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Missing Body Parts Lead to Huge Lawsuit

image Tennessee: The former owners and current funeral director of Nave Funeral Home in Erin are being sued for nearly $8 million in a bizarre case involving missing body parts.

The current owner of the funeral home ? Nave, Larson, Creech, LLC of Clarksville ? is not named as a defendant.

The civil suit was filed in Houston County Chancery Court on behalf of former Erin residents William and Sandra Covey, whose 26-year-old daughter, Wendy, died when the family home on Main Street was destroyed by fire on Jan. 26, 2002.

According to court filings by Attorney for the Plaintiffs Vincent Zuccaro of Franklin, the Coveys always suspected foul play was involved in their daughter’s death, even though an autopsy conducted the day after the fire by the office of the Tennessee State Medical Examiner in Nashville found no such evidence.

It took the Coveys eight years to gather enough money to have their daughter’s body exhumed from the Gray-Barnes Cemetery in Tennessee Ridge and to have a second, independent autopsy performed by Forensic Services LLC and Dr. E. Allen Griggs in Clarksville.

The exhumation took place on April 26 of this year and the second autopsy on May 6.

“The good news is the second autopsy found no evidence of foul play,” Zuccaro said. “The bad news is 20 body parts were missing.”

According to court documents, Wendy Covey’s heart, brain, dura (the outermost of three layers of meninges surrounding the brain and spinal cord), larynx, liver, spleen, kidneys, a lung, thymus, thyroid gland, internal genitalia and other parts were missing and could not be accounted for by normal decomposition.

The suit also claims Wendy Covey was not an organ donor and that her parents did not condone organ donation.

“It’s bad enough to lose a child, but to save for eight years to have the body exhumed and to find out 20 body parts are missing …” Zuccaro said.

The suit claims that when the Coveys received the results of the second autopsy, “they were mentally crushed in an entirely different manner.”

The not-so-subtle implication of the suit is that, at some point, Wendy Covey’s organs and body parts were harvested for sale.

“They say a body, in its entirety, is worth $500 to $1,000,” Zuccaro said, “but cut into pieces it’s worth $200,000.”

Named as defendants are Alderwoods (Tennessee) LLC, formerly known as Alderwoods (Tennessee), Inc., and Funeral Director Kenneth Self, individually.

The Alderwoods Group, according to, is a chain of 750 funeral homes and 170 cemeteries based in Toronto and is the second-largest such business in North America. Alderwoods was acquired in 2006 by Service Corporation International.

Self is being sued for $800,000 “for the wrongful conversion of their daughter’s body parts and the negligent treatment and handling of her body while in his care and custody.”

When contacted by The Stewart Houston Times, Self said he could not comment on the suit.

Jennifer Brandino, a corporate spokesmna for SCI, said, “Each of the defendants strongly denies the allegations asserted in this lawsuit. We look forward to the opportunity to defend ourselves against these baseless allegations.”

Alderwoods is being sued for $2 million for the same reasons, and an additional $5 million is being sought from the defendants in punitive damages “for the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress and the tort of outrageous conduct.”

That conduct included the fact that drug parephernalia, specifically a small silver pipe, was found in the coffin after exhumation.

Zuccaro said the next steps in what could be a very long process are an answer to the suit from the defendants, then depositions, then procedures toward trial.

The attorney said the funeral home and Self are the focus of the suit because the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office found there had been no wrongdoing in the original autopsy.

Photo: The concrete slab in the foreground, a walkway and a couple cement steps to the sidewalk are all that remain where the Covey home burned along Main Street in Erin more than eight years ago. This view is to the west. (KEVIN SAULS/THE STEWART HOUSTON TIMES)