A family grieving the loss of a loved one says it's now dealing with a second loss, after they say the funeral home gave them the ashes of a stranger.
“She was sick and suffering while she was alive,” said Maley Michel, sister of the late Annie Hughes. “Her body went through so much. And now that the Lord has done called her to rest, her body is still not resting. Where is my sister? Where is she?”
Michel, her daughters and other family members say Hughes, 54, died in June. The family said they began to get suspicious about things when weeks went by and the ashes of Hughes weren’t returned following cremation. The family said they know the ashes given to them weren’t Annie’s.
“I got nightmares. I dream she’s in a garbage disposal. I dream she was packed in a bag thrown on the highway somewhere,” Michel said. “I dream her body is just decomposing somewhere with no dignity.”
The family said Hughes’ daughter, Rhonda Mitchell, chose the Taylor Smith West Funeral Home in Belle Glade to fulfill her mother’s wish to be cremated. Mtchell said four months ago she paid over $5,000 for the cremation. When no ashes arrived, she started asking questions, and then ashes were delivered.
“She told me it was my mom,” Mitchell said about the ashes that were delivered.
The family said the funeral home gave them a document to prove the ashes that were delivered came from Annie Hughes. However, the operation of the cremation facility in West Palm Beach told the family, and NBC 6, that Hughes’ body never came to them.
“We have no record of her being in here at all,” said Diane Edgley of Edgley Crematory.
When asked what she thought when she saw the paperwork that was given to the family, Edgley said, “It was a forgery, no doubt.”
The crematory said on the alleged forgery, the permit number and ID number for the body at the top are completely missing. In addition, the crematory said the alleged forgers used the wrong address for the crematory business and that the signature on the document wasn’t accurate.
NBC 6’s Willard Shepard went to the funeral home trying to get an answer, but Sonya Rumph of the Taylor Smith West Funeral Home said she didn’t want to comment on the story.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Vincent Pravato filed a complaint with the state and said the family has filed suit against the funeral home. In addition, the state is opening an investigation to determine if the ashes given to the family are in fact those of Annie Hughes.
“So many things have transpired that fly in the face of law and all reasonableness,” Pravato said. “My first and foremost thought here is locating the body.”
Pravato said the next step in the case is to go to court to try to secure an injunction to get inside the funeral home to see if Hughes’ body may still be there.