Serving the Forgotten: Helping Cantrell Funeral Home’s Mistreated Families Find Peace
They may have been forgotten, but they were never unloved.
When a crisis happens, people naturally turn to first responders for assistance. For those brave enough to serve, it’s a responsibility and desire to be there and assist others. After a loved one’s passing, a family can still find themselves in a feeling of crisis. In this circumstance, it is a funeral director who steps up and is there to assist them. Much like with first responders, funeral professionals have a natural instinct and drive to help others and offer support.
Brian Joseph and staff at Verheyden Funeral Homes knows this calling all too well. After a gruesome discovery was made at Cantrell Funeral Home in April 2018, Mr. Joseph and his staff knew they needed to be there for the families that were affected.
Founded in 1908 by Charles Verheyden, the firm has always operated under the belief that it is their obligation and duty to provide care and service to all who need it – regardless of their race, religion, or background. In fact, the motto “The Same Always to All” was set into the firm’s crest by Mr. Verheyden more than 100 years ago.
Cantrell Funeral Home had deep roots in the community with its founder Ray Cantrell Sr. being a close peer contemporary to Mr. Verheyden. After learning of the poor state of Cantrell Funeral Home in April 2018, Mr. Joseph knew that his firm’s former owner and founder would be there to support the community.
After several complaints from the public, state officials began an investigation into Cantrell Funeral Home. What they discovered over the coming months was horrendous and deplorable, to say the least. The state ended up suspending Cantrell Funeral Home’s license after the human remains from 6 bodies were found uncared for along with over 300 containers of cremated remains that were never returned to families. This, along with a string of other violations, led to the closure and eventual sale of the facility.
In October 2018, the story became even more tragic. After purchasing the property, the new owner complained of a foul smell when beginning renovations. Later, an anonymous letter led investigators the discovery of 11 remains of innocent babies were hidden within the ceilings of the building.
In total, more than 17 human remains along with the cremated remains from 300 more bodies were discovered – including the ashes of more than two dozen veterans from the United States Armed Forces.
Many other funeral homes in the area were reluctant to get involved. The entire case was shocking and sure to come with costs to whoever stepped forward to assist. For Mr. Joseph and his staff, this was something they knew was the right thing to do. When asked by his peers why he would ever get involved with a mess like this, his answer was simple – “because it’s our moral and professional obligation to help those who are marginalized”.
After the initial discovery in April, local authorities reached out, and Verheyden Funeral Homes answered the call. Over the coming months, Mr. Joseph and his staff worked diligently to help care for the bodies and return the cremated remains to the families. First, the bodies were buried during the summer after burial vaults were donated by Santieu Vaults and cemetery space was donated by Mount Olivet.
Next came trying to identify the hundreds of cremated remains that were never returned to families. Many of the remains had a name and date of death, but nothing to help locate the family. During this process, the cremated remains of nearly two dozen veterans were discovered.
In late October 2018, five hearses and around 20 volunteers comprised of Verheyden staff and other funeral professionals from the area gathered at a facility where the cremated remains were being stored at after the discovery.
The volunteers, led by Mr. Joseph, cleaned and carefully placed each of the urns into five caskets to be transported back to Verheyden Funeral Homes main location in Grosse Pointe.
The first urns cleaned and placed in a casket were the military veterans. As each of their names were read, a member of the Selfridge Air National Guard honor guard stood at attention and saluted the deceased. Once the veterans were placed in the casket, an American flag was draped over the casket before placing into a hearse.
After about five months of work, Verheyden Funeral Homes coordinated 2 days to care for all of the cremated remains. Friday, November 2, 2018, on the feast of All Soul’s Day. The community came together at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Detroit, for an ecumenical memorial service. Where a variety of area clergy from all religious denominations prayer for each individual by their names. There were 50 sets of the cremated remains that had no name recognition, but as Fr. Michael Sulllivan from The Province of St. Joseph preached “though we may not know their individual name but Our Lord certainly knows who each of them are, and may they rest in peace”. 5 caskets laid next to each other in the chapel during the service 2 on either side of the casket covered by the American flag which only housed the United States Veterans. When the service concluded Mt. Olivet cemetery generously provided a crypt to hold and house all the cremated remains that were not a United States veteran, and with hopes in returning each and every individual to their family member.
A short time later, on Monday, November 12, 2018 (The observance Day of Veterans Day) that date was set to honor eighteen of the United States veterans with a military funeral service and with Full Honors that they so deserved and were NEVER given that opportunity to honored for their tireless service to our country. On Veterans Day, each of the veterans was placed in their bronze urn with their appropriate branch of service emblem affixed to their urn. Their own flag precisely folded and each were placed and transported by eighteen hearses from different funeral homes across the state. Michigan State Police escorted the convoy of hearses for the committal services to that were held at Great Lakes National Cemetery, in Holly, Michigan.
Once at the cemetery, each veteran received the proper burial they deserved. This included eighteen flag-folding ceremonies, eighteen twenty-one gun salutes, and eighteen playing’s of Taps. Great Lakes National Cemetery generously donated a complete section in the columbarium solely dedicated for the unclaimed cremated remains from the Cantrell Funeral Home.
Mr. Joseph and his staff did not just stop at honoring the veterans and attempting to return the cremated remains. Verheyden Funeral Homes also agreed to take responsibility to serve a significant amount of pre-funded funeral services. Despite agreeing to honor the prearranged services, this was not an opportunity to profit. Many of the contracts have the funds held by a third-party company meaning Verheyden Funeral Homes will not make a profit from them. When other firms were hesitant to get involved, Mr. Joseph knew that this was the right thing to do for all those who had been affected by the actions of Cantrell Funeral Home.
It takes a special type of person to help others and not expect anything in return. Being there to support the community is something Verheyden Funeral Homes has always been committed to. Being active in the community is something to be proud of. Mr. Joseph and his staff understand the importance of helping their neighbors and being there to support them whenever they can. When Mr. Verheyden added the words “The Same Always to All” to the firm’s crest so many years ago, he likely never imagined the situation that would unfold at Cantrell Funeral Home. With that being said, Mr. Joseph can be sure that the actions demonstrated by the firm today would make Mr. Verheyden proud.
|Name||NCA Case No.|
|Howard G. Bunts||9772599|
|Joseph Louis Harden||9771283|
|Eugene Alfred Jones||8631552|
|Vinson A Allen, Sr.||9771185|
|Gary Lee Hutson||9771198|
|Ricardo P. Thomas||9771172|
|Charles Edward Cooks||9771130|
|Leon Jones, Jr.||9771142|
|Ernest H. Harmon||9771261|
|James Richard Moss||9772568|
|Elvis Stanley Lewis|
If you believe that your loved one’s remains were cremated by Cantrell Funeral Home, a list has been added to our website for families to find their loved ones.
The words inscribed onto the company’s crest so many years ago still ring true today. When asked for comment, Mr. Joseph stated, “We believe we serve all families best when we offer them a choice. A choice of facilities, a choice of services, a choice of costs”. Verheyden Funeral Homes will always be there to offer support for those who have been marginalized.
- What happens to nearly 400 human remains at Cantrell?. October 17, 2018.
- Hotline setup for families seeking info on Cantrell human remains. October 18, 2018.
- Local groups offer help for families after grisly funeral home discoveries. October 22, 2018.
- Abandoned remains come home amid Detroit funeral home scandal. October 26, 2018.