‘An unforgettable smell’: Family suspected something was wrong at burial by wanted Jacksonville funeral director

State investigators are looking for a Jacksonville funeral director accused of grand theft, giving families the wrong ashes, and abandoning a mortuary with bodies inside.

Elliott Maurice Graham, 49, is the funeral director at Marion Graham Mortuary in the Lake Forest Hills neighborhood.

State agents were at the mortuary Thursday morning securing the building. They’ve also been searching for cremains inside.

News4JAX was told the three bodies found at the funeral home Wednesday have been returned to their families.

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For many families, the warrant for Graham’s arrest is a relief. Taslesa Ware’s family is one of them.

Ware still chokes up when she talks about burying her father in November 2022.

“My dad was a giver. He was a fisherman. He retired from the City of Jacksonville,” Ware said.

Ware said burying her father was a “horrific” experience because of how Marion Graham Mortuary treated her family and her father’s remains.

Ware said the burial happened days after his scheduled funeral because the mortuary didn’t contact the cemetery to open up the grave, and the wake that was supposed to be open-casket was three hours late.

“Finally, we were told that he was not viewable, so we had to have a closed casket,” Ware said.

Ware suspects it was because he was embalmed improperly — or not at all.

“It makes your anxiety very high. I don’t go to work for a few days,” Ware said. “I’ve been suffering with migraines ever since it happened. So it just, it makes it very hard on you [and] the families that are dealing with this stuff. Now, my heart just really goes out to them.”

Takenya Sutton and Danielle Streater also suspect their cousin, who was laid to rest in March, wasn’t embalmed correctly before his funeral ceremonies because of the smell.

“It was an unforgettable smell, basically it was the smell of a decomposing body,” Steater said.

Streater said that seeing her loved one like that was painful for the family.

Sutton, Streater and Ware allege there were also financial irregularities.

“It just was a number of things that were paid for services never received,” Streater said.

Ware said Graham asked her for additional money.

“He asked me for an additional $1,000… to cover the casket portion of it. But my dad had already prepaid for everything,” Ware said.

Now, the funeral director at Marion Graham Mortuary is wanted by the law, accused by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, whose office regulates the death care industry in the state, of grand theft and improper preservation of a human body.

Individuals who obtained Pre-Need Funeral contracts through Marion Graham Mortuaries are encouraged to file a claim with the Pre-need Funeral Contract Consumer Protection Trust Fund (CPTF).

For more information on the CPTF and how to file a claim, please visit this website.

CrimeStoppers is also offering a cash reward for information that leads to Graham’s arrest.

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