August 13, 2014

Eviction process hits a snag at Johnson Family Mortuary

The Johnsons drove by the vacant mortuary to retrieve their belongings but left without taking anything.

The owners of the infamous Johnson Family Mortuary were expected to remove their belongings Wednesday morning from the building they leased in east Fort Worth, the final step in a much-publicized eviction process.

But when Dondre and Rachel Hardy-Johnson showed up at the building — its parking lot filled with TV and newspaper reporters — they quickly left.

“I guess they got spooked by the cameras,” landlord James Labenz said during a telephone interview Wednesday.

The Johnsons and their funeral home became big news on July 15 when Labenz, who had gone to the supposed vacant mortuary to evict the tenants, found the remains of several unrefrigerated human corpses inside, in various stages of decomposition.

Labenz called the police and officials with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office took possession of eight bodies that were inside the mortuary at 1051 S. Handley Drive.

Days later the Johnsons were arrested and each faces seven charges of abuse of a corpse, a Class A misdemeanor that carries a punishment of a year in jail. The abuse was in reference to “retaining custody of and storing the human corpse in an unrefrigerated building instead of delivering the said human corpse for proper burial or cremation,” according to court documents.

Dondre Johnson, 39, surrendered at the Tarrant County Jail and Rachel Hardy-Johnson, 35, was arrested at their Arlington home. They were released after posting bail of $10,500 each.

Labenz said he wants the Johnsons out of the building no later than Friday. If the Johnsons do not retrieve their belongings, Labenz said he will seek to donate the contents of the building to charity so the building can be rehabilitated and rented to someone else.

Labenz said that he has paid $8,000 in cleanup costs with more on the horizon and that the building has lost value because of all the negative publicity.

Labenz also said that he has soured on the idea of suing the couple for back rent, which he estimates is about $15,000.

“I just want to go forward,” he said. “Who am I to judge? I just want to forgive and forget. I could easily win the case and never receive any money.”

Members of the Johnson family did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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