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More Bodies Found Near Georgia Crematory

Aired February 20, 2002 - 14:11   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Northwestern Georgia, Noble, Georgia, investigators, including the sheriff now, updating us the latest on the crematory case there in the state of Georgia.

SHERIFF STEVE WILSON, WALKER COUNTY, GEORGIA: ... Brent Marsh's home, which is about two homes down from the initial site that we have been searching. Late yesterday afternoon, we obtained a second search warrant and went to the home to retrieve financial records, computer records. And while we were doing that, we included a coffin that we had spotted in the backyard. And as I told you yesterday afternoon, when we opened that coffin, there were human remains inside that coffin.

As we began working around that coffin and attempting to recover it, we noticed that the ground had been disturbed nearby. And as we began excavating and digging into that dirt, we found another sad site. We found more bodies buried in the ground behind this home.

Initially, it looks like there maybe eight to 10, and there could even be more. We basically had to stop the digging because of the rain and move on, but we will certainly give you an update on that as we possibly can.

Also, yesterday we found -- I made a discovery that we were hoping we would not make. In the lake area, we found a torso, a skull. And those -- we have basically stopped at this point. And we will resume that at a later date, and try to make those recoveries.

As of this afternoon, we have 206 remains that have been tagged and bagged, and also 35 have been identified.

At this time, I will have Dr. Sperry come forth and answer some questions in the forensic area that may be of interest to you. Make a statement.

DR. KRIS SPERRY, GEORGIA CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER: Thank you, sheriff. The recovery process is continuing. We are slowed a little bit by the rain, but we expected that. As we speak now, the vaults are being opened one by one and the bodies are being removed from the vaults. And so, that is under way right now. And most probably, if everything goes smoothly, that should be completed by the end of the day. But I have no way of knowing that, because it's all contingent on what we find and the difficulty of recovering the remains from the vaults. The number of personnel in the recovery aspect of the bodies in the woods out behind the buildings and also in the new discovery that is the buried bodies on the lake side, so the number of personnel involved in that -- anthropologists, pathologist, assistants -- has been expanded, and we are going to expand it even more, because these are very, very labor intensive types of processes, especially recovering the bodies that are buried, because we can use heavy equipment to at least initially expose where the bodies are, but all the rest of the process has to be done by hand with shovels to prevent from destroying the bodies and, you know, and preserving them, of course, as much as possible for identification purposes.

So this, as you can expect, is very, very labor intensive, and we are making plans already to expand our staff through demort, especially to accommodate these extended needs.

Now, we have continued to examiner the cremains that have been brought in by family members, and last evening we examined everything that has been brought in during the day and we examined an additional 81 set of cremains, of which we found that 12 were adulterated all or in part with foreign materials, usually concrete or cement. And of course, those have been retained for evidence purposes as well.

That process is continuing today, and we're very fortunate by the expansion of our staff and thus our abilities with the professionals through demort -- we have two individuals, a physician and a pathologist, who are conducting examinations during the day while -- as the remains are being brought in and processed and logged in by the GBI agents. And so, rather than waiting until the end of day and into the evening, we're being able to do that while the families are here so that if the remains are identified as human, we can release those back to the families that are there.

I can tell you that so far today we have found one set of human cremains that were brought in by family members. Unfortunately, we had identified -- conclusively identified this family member's loved one at the scene, and so we know that at the time that this cremation occurred, which was in 1999, the remains that were given back to this family were from someone else. So we have discovered that today, and that's the second one of those that we have found where human cremains from some other person have been given back to a family member and where we have identified the body at the scene. Thank you, sheriff.

WILSON: Also want to mention that today we began examining the vaults that we spoke to you earlier about, and that procedure is going on now. The bodies are being removed from those vaults. It's a very timely and a delicate process.

I'll ask the coroner to step forward at this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got some numbers that you asked for yesterday on family members coming to our civics center that are registered in and talked to the counselors there about possible family members being involved this instant.

So far, it looks like there's between 100 and 150 family members registering daily, talking to one of the agents, giving the information, and for us to look at and see if they're involved. As far as calling the 1-800 number, it looks like we're getting over 600 calls daily of inquiries of whether the funeral home was involved that they chose.

The funeral homes that are involved are over 30 now. As we compile that list, we will give it to you daily. I believe the regular paper has a list of those, and we'll get it to you as soon as possible.

The problem we are having with the identification phase is we have people that are ID'd by possible name tags that the family members have not come forth yet, and we're trying to notify those families as readily as possible. But the problem we're having is that this is a tri-state area and possibly all over the United States -- we have had people call us as far as Canada -- that the individual lived here, the family lived off site, decided to have cremation, and then the body was shipped to them out of state. So we are having internments all over the United States -- as far as I know, it's the United States, I haven't heard anything outside the United States yet. If I do, I'll update you on that as soon as possible.

WILSON: I'll ask Director McConnell with GEMA to step forward.

GARY MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR, GEORGIA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Thank you, sheriff. As far the coordination, making sure that we have sufficient state and federal resources here to assist with this recovery. At the present time, we have approximately 500 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) dedicated to this process, not only located here but throughout the state, working various details. One of the questions we continue to get is when are we going to drain the lake. We have the Environmental Protection Division, both with the state and federal, checking the water. Preliminary tests indicate there's no harmful bacteria.

However, there are a couple of tests that would take two additional days to get results from. We want to assure you that we'll do whatever is necessary to drain the lake, but there's no reason to put divers or somebody in there until we know for sure if the water is safe for them to go into and how we will dispose of the water in the lake, whether we have to truck it out or pump it out, or whatever resources may be.

A couple of other things. We are making commitments today of a long-term operation up here. Georgia is in the process of leasing property here. We expect to be here at least eight months. Met with -- starting to meet with Governor Barnes on a daily basis. As far as cost, met with the leadership of the House of the Representatives of the State of Georgia yesterday. We'll be meeting again in the morning at 9:00 with Governor Barnes.

And we are putting together the preliminary figures, at this point, the best we can estimate them, and he will make determination then as to whether to ask for Federal Emergency Management dollar assistance or not. But I assure you that we are -- a very expensive operation, ladies and gentlemen. The cost is going to be staggering, but certainly not to what it is to the families who have lost loved ones and had loved ones in Walker County.

One note from you as far as how it may effect you. Probably Friday, you will be getting notified that we'll be moving the press conferences to this building, but probably in the back, as we start setting up a permanent operation center here in this room. Thank you.

WILSON: I failed to say this at the start of the news conference. If it wasn't for people like Mr. McConnell and the state agencies and the federal agencies that have come to our rescue, we would be at a loss at a local level. And I cannot express my appreciation enough to these gentlemen behind me and the staff that they have for all the assistance, the fine assistance that they have given us. Just to put an arm around your shoulder sometimes and say we're with you means a lot, and I failed to mention that at the beginning. I want to do that now.

This time, we'll have Director Nix step forward.

MILTON "BUDDY" NIX, DIRECTOR, GEORGIA BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Thank you, sheriff, for your kind comments. We continue to add GBI staff as needed. We will be bringing up two fingerprint specialists tomorrow to assist in the identification process. We'll also be adding two DNA specialists that will be assisting demort in collecting the DNA specimens. We plan to work with the military and through GEMA and contract with the military to provide a lot of the DNA identification resources that will be necessary to complete this process. Thank you.

WILSON: Thank you, sir. And Buzz Franklin, the district attorney's office.

BUZZ FRANKLIN, DA'S OFFICE: At this time, Brent Marsh is still in the custody of the Walker County jail. He has still not indicated that he has retained an attorney at this point, although he has discussed the matter with some attorneys. His bond hearing is still in the status of being continued until we hear further from him. Of course, the investigation is still ongoing, and we have some officers from the FBI who are assisting us in that, and federal authorities are looking at possible federal charges.

WILSON: OK. We will take some questions from the floor now.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Brent Marsh once he gets out? There are a lot of angry people out there.

WILSON: There certainly are. And we've discussed that with him earlier in the week. I made mention of that. I'm sure he's fully aware of that. I understand that maybe attorneys who have spoken to him have also indicated that to him. We will assure the best we can that, you know, that he is not harmed. We can't stay with him 24 hours a day if he is released. But I want to make sure and our state that we will not tolerate any outburst of anger or violence toward him while he is out on bond. We have a responsibility to ensure his safety, as well as protect him during that time.

HEMMER: Latest from Noble, Georgia today. And we've said this just about every day, we have taken these briefing right about this same time, that it continues to get more and more grizzly with each passing day. And again, more news today regarding this story. The second search warrant for the home there of Ray Brent Marsh has been delivered. They found that coffin yesterday. Human remains were found inside that coffin. Now they indicate that some ground around the coffin had been disturbed. They found more bodies buried, again, in his backyard.

Also, the lake that you might see in some of this aerial videotape here, apparently they have already found a torso and a skull in the lake water, and a strong possibility now, you heard them talk about the possibility that lake may be drained at some point very soon, possibly in about two or three days' time.

In total, 206 bodies have been tagged and recovered so far. Thirty-five have been identified. They are going to have to expand their staff. You heard them talking about a lot of manpower required and needed on this particular site. And while it has been gruesome by the day, and it continues again on this Wednesday afternoon. That's it from Noble, Georgia.




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