More than 150 boxes of cremated remains found in abandoned KCMO funeral home
5:00 AM, Feb 3, 2011
12:56 PM, Feb 4, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Instead of a cemetery, mausoleum or urn, imagine if your loved
one’s remains were sitting in the basement of an abandoned
That scenario has been a grim reality for the bodies of more
than 150 people. The stories, backgrounds, and circumstances are
different, but they all have this in common: They died in the
Kansas City area and had their funeral arrangements performed at
the former E.R. Morris Funeral Chapel, 4316 Troost.
Since first hearing about the problem, NBC Action News has
worked with the new owner of the building to find a solution. In
the process, the hope is reuniting families with the cremated
remains (cremains) of their loved ones.
For years, Hani Daifallah has owned a small auto lot near 43rd
and Troost in Kansas City. He remembers when the E.R. Morris
Funeral Chapel operated across the street for years. And he
remembers when the business closed in 2008.
When the property popped up at a tax sale, Daifallah decided to
purchase it, hoping he could turn the abandoned building into
He opened the doors to holes in the ceiling, stacks of delivered
mail on the floor, and evidence left behind from several break-ins.
There were also old caskets, makeup, wigs and embalming fluid.
But none of that compared to what Daifallah found crowding the
shelves in the basement.
“It’s mind boggling to tell you the truth,” he
said. “People leaving the body of a loved one here in the
Funeral homes commonly have one or two boxes of unclaimed
cremains—ashes that, for whatever reason, were never picked
up by family members of the deceased. However, Daifallah discovered
that his recently purchased property had been the resting place for
the bodies of 155 people.
The Kansas City man had been in prison when his mother died in
2001. He showed up nine years later, only to find the funeral home
had been boarded up and closed.
“This means a lot to me,” a teary-eyed Breakfield
said after Daifallah let him into the building to get the
Since then, NBC Action News has tried to bring closure to more
Back in December, a crew spent hours in the bone-chilling
basement, writing down the name on each box as electricity surged
into the building from a generator in a live truck.
Using a patchwork of old cremation log books, stacks of death
certificates, and online search tools, NBC Action News has searched
for possible relatives. If a connection is made, the phone call
Reuniting cremains with family members
On a snowy, January day, NBC Action News delivered boxes of
cremains to several families.
One was Keith Gough, an Olathe man whose mother, Kande Gough,
had died back in January, 1998. Gough had kept an urn with his
mother’s ashes at his house.
But then Keith received a call from NBC Action News, telling him
a box had been found at the funeral home with his mother’s
name on it. A call to Park Lawn Funeral Home, which contracted with
E.R. Morris to provide cremations, verified that the log number on
the box matched the records of Kande Gough’s cremation
It is likely Keith only had some of his mother’s ashes
because they all did not fit in the urn. For some reason, the
remaining ashes had not been given to him, instead sitting on a
basement shelf for more than a decade.
“Thinking all this time I had her, you know, in the house
with us,” Gough said. “And finding out that they are
just sitting in a basement getting dirty and collecting dust. I
would never have wished that for my mother.”
NBC Action News also stopped by the eastside Kansas City home of
91-year-old Dorothy Hurt. Her youngest son, Edward, died in 2008 of
a heart attack, just before the E.R. Morris Funeral Chapel closed
“I’m glad to know where his ashes are now,”
Hurt said. “I was wondering where they were going to
There is sometimes confusion among family members about who is
responsible for picking up cremains. For instance, one man said he
thought an ex-wife was supposed to pick up his brother’s
When reached by phone, a father said picking up his son’s
ashes was simply too painful of a memory.
At the Kansas City, Kan. home of Barbara Kirkendoll, NBC Action
News heard how financial stress plays a part.
Kirkendoll’s mother, Shirley, died in 2007. Alone and
unemployed, she did not have the money to pay for the funeral
services. She said getting the ashes removed a huge burden from her
“It’s my mother, and I sure appreciate what
y’all did for me and contacted me and got her back to
me,” Kirkendoll said.
Repairing a legacy
A few happy endings, but so many more mysteries unsolved.
That is why NBC Action News asked for help from
Funeral Chapel. The men who run the south Kansas City funeral
home have a strong connection to the former E.R. Morris Funeral
Chapel. Their father, Eugene, ran the family business for 12
“I miss my father,” said Stefan Morris.
“Seeing a lot of the stuff inside the building, the way
it’s scattered everywhere… that wasn’t my
When Eugene died in 2000, he left the funeral home to his wife,
Ludella Morris. The sons say their stepmother cut them out of the
business. When she passed away in 2008, she left everything to an
executor. The funeral home quickly terminated its license and
The brothers said they periodically received calls from people
who were angry they could not get into the building to retrieve
their loved ones’ ashes. The brothers tried to explain they
had no legal authority to get into the building to help them. But
they said people did not seem to understand.
After checking with attorneys and the Missouri Board of
Embalmers & Funeral Directors, the brothers decided they could
help. In their minds, it is a chance to make things right.
“It was the legacy of my father and I didn’t want it
to be left like this,” said Stefan Morris. “We’re
going to use as much energy as we can to reunite the cremains with
All the boxes have been moved to Elite Funeral Chapel, which
will serve as a staging area for families.
If next of kin cannot be contacted by telephone, funeral
directors are required to send a certified letter to family. After
90 days, the cremains can be scattered, buried or interred in a
scatter garden, pond or other place formally dedicated for such
That obviously has not happened since the funeral home closed.
It apparently was not happening for years before that, either.
Travis Ford, a spokesman with the Missouri Department of
Insurance, Financial Institutions and Profession Registration, said
state inspectors do not perform a final walk-thru after a business
terminates its license. The State also said it did not get involved
in the situation at the E.R. Morris Funeral Chapel because it no
longer had regulatory oversight.