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Carrboro woman's body left in hearse for nine days

Posted August 25, 2010

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— The North Carolina Board of Funeral Service and Alamance County authorities are investigating why a woman’s body was left in a hearse for nine days.

Police found the body of Linda Walton, 37, in a hearse parked underneath a tree on Thursday after they were called to investigate a foul odor in the town of Graham.

Authorities determined that Walton died of natural causes and estimated that she had been dead five to seven days when she was found in her Carrboro apartment on Aug. 11.

Her corpse was picked up by David B. Lawson Mortuary, whom police called after failing to find Walton’s next of kin.

Lawson, a licensed funeral director for 34 years, said Wednesday he had been waiting on police and had no choice but to keep her body in the hearse because he had no place else for it.

He had tried embalming the body, he said, but it was badly decomposed. Lawson said it had been in the hearse for only four days.

"It's never ended like this before. Always, the police department will be able to find a next-of-kin in just a little while," he said.

"If it was anything that they (neighbors) were offended by, I'm sorry," he added. "Things happen."

Paul Harris, executive director of the state funeral board, said state law allows mortuaries to cremate bodies after 10 days of a death with permission from the local social services department.

Body left in hearse for days Body left in hearse for days

When Lawson contacted the board on Aug. 16, he was referred to the Orange County Department of Social Services, Harris said.

Capt. Joel Booker with the Carrboro Police Department said officers also told Lawson on Aug. 16 that Walton's relatives had been notified.

Walton was cremated after Lawson got permission on Aug. 20.

Harris said the funeral board, which regulates mortuary services in the state, has started an investigation into the matter. If the board decides to discipline Lawson, punishments range from a warning to the loss of his license, Harris said.

According to records from the funeral board, Lawson has had several complaints in the past several years regarding pre-need contracts, in which people make funeral arrangements prior to their death.

The board disciplined him for those mistakes, and he lost his license to issue pre-need contracts, Harrison said.

Booker said the police department, which uses several funeral services to transport bodies, won't be using Lawson anymore.

"We've put the word out that they would not be a service we'll be using in Carrboro in the future," Booker said.


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  • wildcat Aug 26, 2010

    The public wanted to know because it could have been a relative, etc. YOU wanted to know to. Thanks WRAL for good reporting as always.

  • wildcat Aug 26, 2010

    Really, If you didn't need to why did you?

    Identifying the person was the right thing that WRAL could have done. The public wanted to know. This was a horrible thing and the funeral home should face charges.

  • easyst Aug 26, 2010

    This was a sad story on many levels. I'd like to thank WRAL for making it even worse by reporting this poor woman's name needlessly. How about a little more respect for the victim's in your reports? This story wouldn't have suffered by withholding her name. Really, If you didn't need to why did you?

  • SemperFi... Always Aug 25, 2010

    Hmmmmm good question scatterrugs! Hadn't read anything on the answer to that yet either....

  • scatterrugs Aug 25, 2010

    Aside from the obvious, something is missing from this story...how in the world does a 37 year old die of "natural causes?" Why no autopsy?

  • SemperFi... Always Aug 25, 2010

    GoLow - possibly but the smell was apparently pretty bad all the way around when he got it - whether it was to the point of an awful stench, not sure... Just seems like alot of folks messed up on this one, not just him & even if he brought her inside, without being able to embalm, she would have continued to decompose... Seems like 10 days is a bit long on the rules for having to wait in this case but perhaps they should include an "unless" stipulation.

  • doubletrouble Aug 25, 2010

    Seems the owner of the funeral home was stuck between a rock and a hard place, legally, but if the body was prepped with embalming dust, and a sealed bag, you would think there wouldn't have been any odor excaping. I'm not sure if small town funeral homes even have coolers for bodies, just a prep room. I know some farm out their embalming work to larger city morgues, as it can be done cheaper than what they charge in house, but am sure some folks don't realize that. Same as with cremation services, it's done somewhere else. All this takes some type of legal "permission" to move the body either here, or there...which seems he didn't have, until the very last minute.

  • SmileAndNod Aug 25, 2010

    Oops, it was stinking up the joint, so he moved the body to the hearse. It's horrible all the way around.

  • SmileAndNod Aug 25, 2010

    SemperFi, he could have brought the body inside the building, in the usual cooling chamber. Just a thought, sure does beat having her decompose in his vehicle.

  • SmileAndNod Aug 25, 2010

    Life insurance is $2 a month.