Police: Suspect removed human remains, chopped up urns to sell as scrap

Alan Smith (Source: Cincinnati Police)
Alan Smith (Source: Cincinnati Police)

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - A former funeral home employee is accused of selling bronze urns for money.

Earlier this month, staff at Hillside Chapel reported that about 20 bronze urns, an air conditioning unit and some other miscellaneous metal items were stolen.

The owner of Hillside Chapel, Don Catchen, says the remains were removed from the urns but are still in tact because every urn stores ashes inside a plastic bag.

"There was three that came out of here that had ashes in them and the rest of them were new ones that we had in the back," says Catchen. "In 49 years of being a funeral director this is one of the most devastating things that's ever occurred to me. My stomach still rolls with the fact that somebody would do that."

According to police the urns had been taken to a local scrap yard and sold by Catchen's former employee, Alan Smith, 26, of Harrison. Catchen says Smith went through a lot of trouble to sell the urns.

"He had gotten a letterhead out of the office and wrote himself a note giving him permission to scrap this stuff and signed my son's name to the letter," said Catchen.

Police Lt. Gary Brown says Smith chopped up the urns to make them appear to be scrap.

"They weren't in pristine condition...they weren't something you or I would recognize as an urn," said Brown. "Mr. Smith had taken them and he even admitted that he cut them up because he didn't want to bring anymore attention to himself by taking them to the scrap yard."

Smith turned himself in to police and admitted to investigators that he stole the urns, but during an initial court appearance Wednesday Smith's attorney, Merlin Shiverdecker, tried to minimize the severity of his alleged crime.

"I think the record needs to be clear that what he was...what the allegation is that he was disposing of the container not the remains," said Shiverdecker.

Smith's bond was set at $20,000 on charges of theft, vandalism and desecration.

Lt. Brown says this kind of crime defies explanation.

"This is the most upsetting one that I've been involved in," he said. "I've had family members who've passed away and it's a very sensitive issue.....there are just some things that are too crazy to do."

Police say the investigation is ongoing with additional charges anticipated.

The Hillside Chapel is one of the largest crematoriums and currently the oldest operating crematorium in the entire country.

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