CLEVELAND, Ohio - Ivan Markovic thought the death of his ailing, elderly father meant the hardest part of their ordeal was over. Then the FBI called.
Out of the blue, on July 1, the FBI called to tell him that his father's body had not been cremated by a Colorado Funeral home as he had thought, he said. Instead, they told him that it may have been sold by "body broker" and shipped to an undisclosed location.
They asked him to turn over the ashes that the funeral home had given him for testing to determine if they were from something other than human.
The FBI confirmed that it is testing what Markovic believed were his father's Cremains, along with those from about 50 others as a part of an investigation into the Sunset Mesa funeral home. The same people own and operate Donor Services and a crematory, all on the same piece of property in Montrose, Colo. All the businesses are now closed.
The FBI offered little other information.
It is not illegal to sell body parts, though such sales could only be done with the permission of the family of the person, or by the person before death, according to a spokesman for the National Funeral Director's Association.
Markovic said the FBI told him Donor Services sold body parts for medical and educational research. A single body could yield thousands of dollars if sold in pieces, according to numerous sources, including Angela McArthur, director of body donations at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
"I just can't believe this is happening," said Markovic, 58, who lived in Northeast Ohio most of his life, as did his parents. "Anyone who would do this to people is a monster that we need to be protected from. I don't know how to prevent people from being bad, but if they are caught they should be punished criminally.
Gojko "George" Markovic was 87 when he died on March 11, 2016. He had been living at the Colorow Nursing Home in Olathe, Colo., along with his wife, Slavka "Sylvia" Markovic, 92. She died on July 5, shortly after Ivan Markovic arrived in Colorado with the ashes that he had believed were his father's.
Markovic and his parents emigrated to the United States from the former Yugoslavia in 1969. All three became naturalized citizens of the United States in 1974.
FBI testing cremains
FBI began investigating after several people came forward with suspicions that ashes they were given by the Sunset Mesa funeral home were not the cremains of their loved ones, according to Reuters, The Denver Post and other news reports.
One woman told the Colorado Office of Funeral Home and Crematory Registration she was suspicious when the cremated remains of a loved one seemed light for the persons size and weight. She had the cremains analyzed and the analysis found pieces of a watch, rivets and parts of a metal zipper. She said when the body was turned over, it wore only pajamas and had no metal of it, according to a complaint filed by the state office of funeral home and crematory registration.
The news of the case was broken by Reuters News Service and the Denver Post newspaper.
Reuters, which wrote a series on body selling, reported that Donor Services offered a price list to medical training laboratories for body parts: torsos for $1,000 each, heads for $500 and a foot for $125. The news service said the prices were listed on the company's website, which has since been taken down.
It is highly unusual to have a donor service operations run together by funeral home owners, according to the National Funeral Director's Association. But, the association says, it is not illegal.
No charges have been filed in the case against the owner of the funeral home and crematory, Megan Hess. Hess could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the 50 sets of ashes that included Markovic's, Colorado Mesa University told The Plain Dealer it is testing another 109 cremains to "ease the concerns" of people who used Sunset Mesa for funeral services.
The university tests will only determine if the ashes came from bones or some other material; it cannot distinguish if the bones are from a human or an animal. Testing to determine DNA of the ashes would be very difficult and expensive.
State suspends funeral home license
The Sunset Funeral Home's license to operate was suspended in February by the Colorado Division of Professions and Occupations based on their findings that included providing false cremains to families, who had the cremains tested and found they were not human.
According to a filing at the Colorado Office of Administrative Courts, in 2014 a family became suspicious of cremains of a loved one handled by Sunset Mesa. According to the report of the suspension, the family had the cremains analyzed and was told the ashes were concrete. A year later a second family had cremains of a loved one analyzed and were also found to be concrete, the report said.
The report noted other reasons for the suspension of the funeral home and crematorium's licenses included the information that five people were cremated without a permit.
Also, the state report said the funeral home did not have a registered, qualified person in charge. When Hess purchased the funeral home and crematory in 2011, former owner Greg Huffer was listed as the person registered by the state to perform funeral home and crematory operation.
Since the sale to Hess, there was no qualified person designated by the state to run the funeral home and crematory, according to the complaint filed by the state.
A complaint against the funeral home and the crematory filed by the Colorado Office of Administrative Court, said the owners "engaged in numerous incidents of willfully dishonest conduct or committed negligence in the practice of embalming, funeral directing, or providing for final disposition that defrauds or causes injury."
Reeves and Baskerville funeral home owner Matt Baskerville owner of the Reeves and Baskerville funeral home in Wilmington, Ill., speaking on behalf of the National Funeral Directors Association, said he was shocked at the story.
"It's disheartening to hear this, it puts a black mark on all of us," he said. "Most organizations that deal with this kind of donations are not for profit, making enough just to keep it going. I've never heard of anything like this."
Markovic didn't know his father had died
Markovic said he was not contacted about his father's death and only learned of it when a friend saw the obituary in a newspaper."There was not even a funeral," Marcovic said. "They (the Sunset Mesa funeral home) did not even want to give me my father's ashes. I insisted, and they finally allowed me to pick them up."
For much of the past two years, Markovic has been moving back and forth from Ohio to Colorado, he lived in Bath and Hinckley during that time. He and his family lived in the Cleveland area, including Lakewood, North Olmsted and Hinckley, for 38 years.
He said once he was given the ashes, he kept them in his truck so he could feel close to his father while on the road in his job setting up computer systems for businesses.
"Of course, I assumed they were my father's remains," he said. "One day, I took them to a cemetery in Mansfield where my father's mother is buried. I buried some of the ashes on her grave and kept the rest with me."
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FBI says funeral home may have given son fake cremains of his father, sold body