Five of 8 bodies removed from mortuary are identified

Posted Thursday, Jul. 17, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Five of the eight bodies seized from an east Fort Worth funeral home on Tuesday have been identified, and all but one showed advanced signs of decomposition, the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office reported Wednesday.

The bodies were removed from the Johnson Family Mortuary, 1051 S. Handley Drive, after the building’s landlord called police, saying he had evicted the owners but found the unattended bodies inside.

None of the bodies — six adults and two stillborn children — showed signs of trauma or foul play, according to a news release from the medical examiner’s office.

The mortuary’s operators, twin brothers Dondre and Derrick Johnson, owe thousands of dollars to a previous building owner and to the Texas Funeral Service Commission in unpaid rent and penalties, records show.

The commission shut down the brothers’ D&D Johnson Funeral Home in 2010 because they owe more than $13,600 in penalties assessed for violations, said Kyle Smith, a staff attorney for the commission.

Five complaints are pending with the commission against the Johnson Family Mortuary, he said. Two of the complaints are expected to be addressed when the commission meets in September.

The brothers’ operating license for the mortuary expires at the end of month.

“Unless or until they resolve these pending issues we will not grant a license to anyone in the Johnson family, anyone representing the Johnson family or anyone connected to the Johnson family,” Smith said.

Smith would not discuss the complaints, saying they were confidential.

Late Wednesday, Dondre Johnson was in the Tarrant County Jail facing a charge of contempt of court. No bail was set. It could not be learned which judge issued the contempt warrant and why, but it seemed to be unrelated to the mortuary.

Tarrant County district clerk records show that Hickman Investments sued Derrick and Dondre Johnson and D&D Johnson Funeral Home in 2010 for unpaid rent. The defendants had signed a five-year lease on January 20, 2010, and stopped making payments after March, court documents showed.

A default judgment was entered against Derrick and Dondre Johnson for the five-year lease period, the unpaid lease payments, and attorneys and other fees for more than $166,000, court documents said.

Derrick Johnson said the suit and penalties against D&D Johnson Funeral Home have nothing to do with the Johnson Family Mortuary.

“We learn from our mistakes,” Derrick Johnson said.

He said he can still own a funeral home without holding a license. Several funeral home owners in the region do not have licenses, Derrick Johnson said.

Rachel Hardy-Johnson, Dondre Johnson’s wife and a part owner of the Johnson Family Mortuary, said the landlord locked the doors last month because they were behind on their rent. They got behind again, and the landlord went to the business Tuesday before 9 a.m. when they were to open and when he knew no one would be there “so he could lock us out again,” Hardy-Johnson said.

“There was a legal way to do this,” Hardy-Johnson said. “You cannot just throw us out. He knew we had bodies inside. We’ve been in this location for four years without a problem. He did not care how much hurt he caused those families.”

After police were called Tuesday and the bodies removed, Dondre Johnson said the bodies were not refrigerated.

Smith of the state commission said Wednesday that bodies must be maintained between 34 degrees and 40 degrees, or be embalmed, or be encased in a container that ensures against the seepage of fluids or the escape of odors.

“Usually a funeral home that does not have their own refrigeration room will contract with an embalming service or a crematorium that has a refrigeration room so they do not break [Texas Administrative Code] rules,” Smith said.

On Wednesday, a legal notice posted on the door of the Johnson Family Mortuary stated that the establishment was in default, that the landlord had terminated the lease and taken possession of the property.

“They owe my client rent,” said John Leslie, the attorney representing the landlord. “They have not paid my client. I’m not going to go into the amount or how much they are in delinquency, but further legal action is likely.”

Those who stopped to read the notice said they could smell foul odors coming from the building.

“We’ve been smelling it for a couple of weeks, we just didn’t know what it was,” said Joyce Haynes, who lives nearby. “You could not help but smell it if the wind was blowing in the right direction. We thought it might have been an animal that died.”

Dondre Johnson said some of the bodies had been embalmed and were ready to be interred. Others were in caskets and ready to be moved. The bodies that had not been embalmed were covered in black garbage bags.

One was ready to be shipped to Africa, Dondre Johnson said.

The body of Chewe Mwangilwa, 42, of Zambia, will be shipped home Friday, a news release from the medical examiner’s office said.

The others identified were: Patrician Baptiste, 90, and Victoria Vasquez, 53, who died of heart disease; Helen Washington Jones, 70, who died of lung cancer; and Karen Pearl Jones, 60, who died of unspecified natural causes.

Those unidentified are a woman, 48, who died of breast cancer, and two stillborn infants, the release said.

As for Dondre Johnson’s arrest Wednesday, Sgt. Raymond Bush, a Fort Worth police spokesman, said he was unaware of the arrest. Terry Grisham, a spokesman for the Tarrant County sheriff’s department, also said he did not know about the arrest.

“Clearly he was jailed at the order of a judge on a contempt citation,” Grisham said. “The most common thing we find is out of family court where someone is late on child support or has done something else to irritate a judge.”

Staff writer Monica Nagy contributed to this report.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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