Local News

Carrboro woman's body left in hearse for nine days

Posted August 25, 2010 7:12 a.m. EDT
Updated August 25, 2010 7:38 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.