Police discover decomposing remains at Johnstown funeral home

JOHNSTOWN – Authorities say they made a grisly discovery at a Johnstown funeral home last week after its owner was accused of dodging family members of a deceased relative in search of an update on cremation services.

Officials discovered an unknown number of decomposing human remains at the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home and at least two bodies in the garage, where the remains were stored next to garbage and furniture, officials said.

Owner Brian M. Barnett had also been operating under a suspended license since last November, according to the state Department of Health, which said his license was suspended on November 30, 2021 for operating an unregistered business after being previously sanctioned by public health. officials for the same offence.

Barnett also denied department requests to inspect funeral home records, which the state agency is authorized to inspect, a state health spokesperson said Sunday. His license was listed as active on the state health department’s funeral director online accounting. The state spokeswoman said her name would be removed.

The state health department said it received a complaint about the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home in May and is still investigating it.

Police said they also located more than a dozen containers with cremated remains, including several open urns without identification tags, prompting authorities to launch a search to identify them.

“The investigation is still ongoing and charges are pending,” police said in a statement. The Daily Gazette first reported the story.

Barnett did not return a phone call seeking comment on Sunday, and no one answered the door of the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home. The company’s voicemail said the location would be closed due to state coronavirus regulations and “unforeseen health concerns” until Jan. 11.

Google lists the business as permanently closed.

Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home is located in downtown Johnstown on North Williams Street between the Johnstown Historical Society and the municipal offices housing the county court offices.

The municipal parking lot adjoins the main historic brick building of the funeral home and runs alongside the separate garage. The sidewalk closest to the structure contains the designated parking spaces for court officials, including the district attorney, whose slot is located a few feet from the entrance to the garage where the bodies were found.

“It’s crazy and my mind is blown,” said Sixto Santamaria, a homeowner whose back garage backs onto the funeral home’s garage.

Santamaria said he was angered that he was not informed of the grisly discovery by local authorities.

While executing a search warrant, investigators said they found the bodies in an advanced state of decomposition as the remains were not stored in a temperature-controlled location or cared for ‘in any way’ .

The remains, officials said, had been there for a “substantial” time.

Detectives also learned that another deceased person was picked up by Barnett in late 2021. While records indicated the person was cremated, the crematorium listed on the death certificate had no record of an ongoing cremation. , officials said.

Luckily, Santamaria said, the cold weather probably held back the smell of decay.

“I have three children who play outside,” he said. “I have no words.”

Johnstown police executed a search warrant on January 14 after receiving a complaint from a family who had entered into an agreement for cremation services.

For several weeks, the family had tried to contact Barrett, who reportedly did not respond to their requests. The Johnstown Police Department also failed.

Officials learned from state regulators that Barnett’s license had been suspended, which stripped the company of its ability to store or handle human remains and conduct funeral services.

Barnett then contacted detectives and told them that human remains were at the scene and that no service had been completed for several weeks.

The funeral home is not listed as a service provider in any obituaries posted since November 2. However, the funeral home shared on its Facebook page the obituary of a Johnstown man who died in late December and that he was caring for the remains when a spring service could be arranged.

The funeral home posted on its page that Barnett took over as owner in 2014. Daniel Vernon Ehle, the previous owner, was a consultant, but it’s unclear how long that arrangement lasted.

Although clients and authorities struggled to get in touch with Barnett, he was active on his personal Facebook page throughout January. His last post on January 12 referenced a previous post that showed passages from the King James Bible and noted, “Be kind and help someone out of a pit instead of throwing dirt when he’s not looking. .”

All remains found by authorities at the funeral home have been turned over to AG Cole Funeral Home for proper services.

Johnstown police on Sunday declined to specify the total number of remains found, citing the ongoing investigation.

“The (State Department of Health) takes the oversight of funeral homes very seriously and anyone found guilty of operating a facility illegally will be investigated and suspended. or license revocation,” a spokeswoman told The Times Union on Sunday.

The Fulton County Coroner’s Office is working to identify the remains in conjunction with the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Unit. Local officials will contact the families of those recovered as they are officially identified, police said.

If families have services with Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home and have not collected the remains, they can contact the coroner’s office or Johnstown police. Family members are asked to know the date, time and place of death of their deceased.

Family members are also encouraged to email [email protected] with any questions.

Lauren Stanforth contributed to this report.

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