36 years ago detectives found the remains of 36 people in a Jacksonville funeral home. Now, a similar case unfolds

The issues being uncovered through the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) investigation of the Marion Graham Mortuaries aren’t the first time something like this has happened in Jacksonville.

Funeral director Elliot Graham is at the center of the DFS investigation that accuses him of stealing money and mishandling remains. Officials issued a warrant for Graham’s arrest on Wednesday.

Several complaints were also filed against the funeral home in the last four years.

News4JAX first covered another funeral home scandal at the Morning Glory Funeral Home. That case caught national attention 36 years ago after investigators discovered the remains of 36 people at the Howell Morning Glory Chapel on the Eastside.

A routine inspection led investigators to the discovery. It was a case that shocked state investigators and the funeral industry.

The bodies were left to rot. They were unburied in wooden caskets with some bodies stuffed in bags in closets. Investigators even found eight bodies buried in three graves.

During the investigation, detectives learned that Lewis Howell, who was the funeral director of Morning Glory in 1988, was also accepting money from the city for funerals that were never performed.

He was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for felony grand theft. He only served more than two and half months of his sentence.

News4JAX reached out to Howell but he declined to comment.

Michelle Ohmart is the current funeral director for the funeral home, which handles indigent burials for the city.

She remembered the Morning Glory case, and also handled the burials for those remains Howell left behind.

“I think that as an industry, we need to earn the public’s trust more. I think we need to be very careful about how we’re treating people’s loved ones. Morning Glory put an enormous stain on the entire industry. I don’t think even to this day, we have been able to recover from that fully. Hopefully, we’re we’re making some progress,” Ohmart said.

Keith Buckner also recalls the controversial case and suggests that the funeral industry needs more restrictions following Graham’s pending case.

“I’m not surprised that it hasn’t changed,” Bucker said. “It probably just needs to be more restrictions in the industry. They probably need to take a closer look.”

In the past 36 years since the Morning Glory scandal, more funeral inspections are taking place but some people believe more still needs to be done to avoid cases like these.

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