Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Places

Tri-State Crematory, Noble, Ga.: The Lazy Funeral Home Horror

Map with Noble, Georgia locator
Map with Noble, Georgia locator

Falling behind at work and trying to cover it up isn't unusual. We've heard of post office clerks stashing piles of letters when they can't get them delivered. But if your business is disposing of bodies, the evidence is pretty hard to cover up. A propane deliveryman twice complained to the sheriff about seeing bodies on the Tri-State Crematory grounds when he stopped to relieve himself in the bushes. The sheriff's office was initially unconcerned: of course a crematory is going to have bodies prior to incineration. After a few anonymous tips to the local office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), though, including one from a woman who found a human skull while walking her dog, the sheriff went out to see it for himself, and encountered a truly grisly scene.

Ray Brent Marsh in police custody
Ray Brent Marsh in police custody

Investigators first found 20 bodies in the building where the crematory supplies were kept. Then they found bodies everywhere: in cars, in vaults, beneath dirt mounds, in a coffin putrefying beside a lake, across the lot's sprawling property, in a mass grave right by the house.

Ray Marsh opened the business in the early 70s; his son, Ray Brent Marsh, dropped out of college to take over when his father became ill in 1996. Ray Brent's parents stayed on in the house on the business' large plot in northern Georgia, and he seemed to capably manage the business. Until, that is, the authorities found 334 corpses in his yard. 125 of them were never identified. Their relatives have urns filled with cement dust rather than the remains of their dearly departed relatives.

Tri-State Crematory entrance sign
Tri-State Crematory entrance sign

Financial reasons don't seem to have led Ray Brent Marsh to let the bodies pile up, as it costs only around $25 to cremate a body, and under $800 every few years for service to keep the oven in working order. And investigators ruled out necrophiliac intentions. Why, then, did this appalling disregard for the dead happen? One attorney's explanation: mercury in the corpses' dental fillings, released into the air, slowly poisoned the crematory family over the years, killing the elder Marsh and confusing the younger Marsh so much that he didn't do the easy, sensible, lucrative and decent thing in incinerating the bodies, but hid them in the yard.

The younger Marsh was charged with counts that included fraud, abuse of a corpse, theft, and false statements. Under a plea agreement, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Many of his victims' relatives don't think this was enough. Hopefully the 334 people whose bodies he let decay are now resting peacefully and not seeking revenge.

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