CHICAGO » The remains of two mummified or skeletonized babies found inside small boxes above ceiling tiles at a funeral home in northwestern Indiana were placed there by an employee last September and taken down the same day by the manager of the facility, a spokesman for the funeral home said Thursday.
Sean Howard, spokesman for Smith, Bizzell & Warner Funeral Home in Gary, said county officials had known for months that the funeral home had the remains and that the funeral home was trying to find birth, death and medical records to determine the identities of the babies.
The Lake County Coroner’s Office retrieved the remains from the funeral home on Wednesday. It was not clear why the coroner’s office waited months to take possession of the remains. Funeral home spokesman Howard held a press conference Thursday to discuss the unusual incident.
"Over the last five months we have asked the coroner for guidance and we have followed that guidance," said Howard.
Left unanswered are the identities of the babies — one that may have been a month or two old and the other a stillborn — and the circumstances of how they came to the funeral home nearly 20 years ago. Nor do officials know why the employee — who was fired a short time later — put the remains above the ceiling, said Howard.
Scott Sefton, a senior investigator with the Lake County Coroner’s office, said that when investigators arrived Wednesday the bodies had been taken down from the ceiling. Police have said they are investigating whether the remains were stored properly.
Howard said one of the babies had been at the facility since 1996 and the other one since either 1996 or 1997, nearly a decade before the current owners of the funeral home purchased the business in 2005.
According to Howard, after the current owners "inherited" the babies, officials spent years trying to locate records that might help them identify the remains and even purchased a cabinet to store the two small caskets. The one-month old boy had a tag from an area hospital, but the hospital was unable to provide any information, he said. The stillborn, whose gender is unknown, did not have a hospital tag, Howard said.
Howard said that three years ago the company purchased a locking cabinet to store the remains, and that they were kept there until one day in September when a manager discovered the employee earlier that day had taken the babies out of the cabinet, climbed a ladder and placed them above the ceiling.
The coroner’s office has said preliminary findings suggest that the two babies died of natural causes. Sefton said an autopsy was conducted on Thursday and the results were not yet available.