Created: 07/18/2014 2:21 PM
By: DENISE LAVOIE
BOSTON (AP) — An unlicensed funeral director accused of stealing more than $12,000 from an elderly couple could face more charges after authorities found 12 bodies and the cremated remains of more than 40 others in two self-storage units he rented, authorities said Friday.
Joseph O'Donnell, 55, of Boston, was being held on $10,000 bail in a larceny case when investigators found the cremated remains Wednesday at a Somerville self-storage business. On Thursday, they found 12 sets of human remains at a similar business in Weymouth.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said no foul play is suspected and investigators were working to identify the remains.
Conley's spokesman, Jake Wark, said no charges have been sought against O'Donnell in the discovery of the human remains, but authorities are conducting a criminal investigation. O'Donnell's funeral director's license lapsed in 2008.
His attorney, Paul Tomasetti, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A message was left at his office.
O'Donnell was charged with larceny in April. Authorities said he took more than $12,000 in pre-payments from an elderly couple to cover two future funerals. Later, when the couple asked to apply one payment to another family member who had died, they learned that O'Donnell's funeral home had closed and O'Donnell was unable to return their money, investigators said.
Wark said the mere possession of cremated remains is not a crime. "But the presence of so many does give us some concern, given his alleged behavior in connection with the theft of funeral payments," he said.
The discovery of the bodies in Weymouth, Wark said, is "a much more serious set of circumstances."
O'Donnell had a previously scheduled pre-trial hearing in the larceny case Friday. He waived his appearance, and the case was continued until Aug. 29.
April Hopkins, a Randolph woman who said she paid O'Donnell thousands of dollars to cremate her son, mother and granddaughter in 2011 and 2012, said she was angry when she heard about the cremated remains found in Somerville. She said she is now unsure whether the cremated remains she has in her house are those of her loved ones or not.
Hopkins went to Dorchester Municipal Court Friday to try to get more information about the remains found in the storage facilities.
"I'm devastated. I am very upset because I really put a lot of trust in this man," Hopkins said. "Is one of those bodies my mom? Is one of the bodies my son? Who's to say?"
Dahria Williams-Fernandes, a Boston funeral home director and member of the state Division of Professional Licensure's Board of Funeral Services and Embalming, said it's a violation of professional regulations to put bodies in self-storage units.
"It's clear-cut," she said. "There's no way we'd ever be placing an individual in a storage unit for any period of time. They should never be out of our possession."
(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)