Families express concerns over mishandling of loved ones’ remains at funeral home caught in investigation

Several families are pouring in with stories to News4JAX about their experiences with a Jacksonville funeral home at the center of a state investigation.

Ola Jackson passed away in September 2023. Since her death, her family had to fight to receive what they thought were her ashes from Marion Graham Mortuaries, where Elliot Maurice Graham is the funeral director.

Graham is accused of stealing money, giving out fake remains and abandoning the mortuary.

Jackson’s family pushed to get her cremains, but when they finally got them, they felt like something wasn’t right.

“It’s not only disheartening. We’re looking and trying to reach out to other grieving families because we’re all in the same boat,” Paula Wright, Jackson’s sister-in-law said. “And that boat can be strengthened if we come together.”

According to the family, Jackson’s husband, Johnnie, stopped by the mortuary on Jan. 14 after the family couldn’t get any answers from Graham. Jackson said he asked for his wife’s cremains and Graham went inside the building for 45 minutes but did not let Johnnie inside.

Then Graham returned with a box of cremains but her husband didn’t have a good feeling about what he received.

So, Sandra James, Ola’s sister-in-law, filed a complaint with the state funeral board several days later.

“On that Wednesday, I guess they got the documentation to get it, and that’s when they went in and found her body inside the mortuary,” James said.

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The family said they were able to send another funeral home to pick up the remains, and she was cremated the next day with her family present.

“When he approached Johnnie outside and gave him somebody’s body, somebody remains, that those bodies had to be inside. How inhumane can someone be? You’re talking to someone that just lost their wife and you’re gonna take and give them something that you know is not her remains,” James said.

Wright said while the situation reignites their grief, they’re staying strong through prayer, and they’re praying Graham will come forward.

“We pray. We have prayed for Maurice because we believe he’s in some dark space right now in this time,” Wright said. “We need him to know that God redeems. He delivers. He transforms. He reforms. Help us conclude this process by turning yourself in,” Wright pleaded.

The family hopes others who have dealt with similar situations will come forward as well.

Another family expressed concerns about their loved one’s cremains possibly being mishandled.

James Landon Taylor arranged funeral plans with Marion Graham Mortuaries in the late 1980s. He passed in November 2022, but his family remained suspicious of the funeral home and its practices.

“It smells like decay. It disturbed my sister. It took her a moment to gather herself. We put on makes because the smell was so alarming. We just didn’t know what we were walking into,” Carol Kimbrough said.

Kimbrough made an unplanned visit to the funeral home in November to make plans for her father’s funeral. His family felt there were red flags at the funeral home but didn’t want to go against his wishes.

Kimbrough also said they didn’t get his ashes until months later.

They said their father had gold filings but Graham told them he had issues getting their father’s teeth out.

“I’m quoting him. He said, ‘If it will make your family feel any better, I can sprinkle some gold in there.’ I said, ‘No, Mr. Maurice, you don’t have to do that.’ So that ended up raising questions about are these my father’s ashes,” Kimbrough said.

Records show that the State Funeral Board fined Graham $4,000 and suspected his license for one year in 202. It’s unclear if he was operating the business with a suspended license during Taylor’s funeral and cremation.

The family’s uncertainty about their father’s ashes has kept them from putting Taylor in his final resting place.

“Our father served this country; he served in the army. So, we have not been able to put his ashes at the Jacksonville National Cemetery yet. They are still with us. Because we’ve never had this peace that those were our father’s ashes. So it’s important that we can somehow get those ashes identified,” Kimbrough said.

If you would like to file a complaint about the funeral home, you can start a claim with the Consumer Protection Trust Fund by visiting myfloridacfo.com.

Also, Crime Stoppers is offering a cash reward for information that leads to Graham’s arrest.

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