Houston & Peach

Warner Robins crematory owner was shocked to learn of a burial. He still had cremains.

Jody Scott
Jody Scott Special to The Telegraph

Funeral director Jody Scott was troubled by the unclaimed ashes of a loved one's mother at the Warner Robins funeral home he co-owns.

The cremains had been at Burpee-Scott Memorial Chapel Funeral Home & Crematory on U.S. 41 near Russell Parkway for nearly five months.

Scott said he'd tried repeatedly to reach John Hall Brantley, the owner of Brantley Funeral Home in Wrightsville, which had contracted with him to do the cremation in early January. But Brantley never responded.

At first, Scott said he thought perhaps the cremains belonged to a family who could not afford to pay Brantley, or maybe the family just hadn’t inquired about picking up the cremains.

Last month, Scott decided to reach out to the next of kin, Joe Bowen of Waverly Hall near Columbus.

"I just wanted to get his mother to him," Scott said. "And when I called him to let him know who I was and that I had cremated her for Brantley and wanted to know if he would like for me to release her to him, he, at that point, said, ‘You must be mistaken. I picked my mother up already and we’ve already buried her,’ “ Scott recalled.

Scott was shocked.

"I was sick, sick – literally sick to my stomach,” Scott said. “I mean it was just. I literally felt like I … my feet were heavy. It was just an overwhelming feeling of how in the world."

"It absolutely makes no sense why anybody would do this, or even have to do this. The Bowens paid him. They had paid him in full. They even paid him to ship her."

Brantley, who is the subject of a GBI investigation, was arrested earlier this week on misdemeanor charges in connection with the incident. He has not returned calls seeking comment.

Joe Bowen said Thursday he would like to sit down and talk about what happened if his attorney gives him the green light. His attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.

How Bowen received what he was told were his mother's ashes was also odd.

Frustrated, Bowen set a date for the memorial graveside services, kept the pressure up and finally called and said he was to driving to Brantley, Scott said Bowen told him.

That's when Bowen was given an urn of what he thought were his mother's ashes in a parking lot of a gas station by either Brantley himself or a Brantley Funeral Home representative, Scott said.

That meeting took place at Marathon gas station on Ga. 96 in Jeffersonville at 10 a.m. Feb. 1, according to a Twiggs County Sheriff's Office incident report.

What the Bowen family thought were the cremains of Lottie Marilee Bowen, 70, of Macon were buried the next morning at Monroe Hills Memorial Gardens in Forsyth. Bowen, the mother of five sons, one daughter, 15 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews, died Dec. 28 at the Medical Center, Navicent Health, according to her obit.

On May 16, Joe Bowen and his wife, Edna, drove to Warner Robins to meet with Scott, who said he showed Joe Bowen all the required documentation and explained the process of cremation in hopes it might give the grieving son some measure of peace.

Bowen then picked out an urn for his mother, and he and his wife left with his mother's cremains, Scott said.

Bowen filed police reports with the Wrightsville Police Department and the Twiggs County Sheriff's Office. Wrightsville Police Chief Aaron Price reached out to the GBI, which launched an investigation.

Brantley was arrested Monday on one count of theft by deception and four other misdemeanor counts related to failing to label containers containing cremains. Three other containers with ashes in them were found unlabeled at the funeral home when searched by the GBI on June 15.

The GBI also seized Brantley Jordan Funeral Home records and disinterred the urn from the cemetery. A GBI medical examiner is expected to try to determine exactly what was in the urn: human cremains, something else or a mixture of both.

The crematorium that Brantley contacted did nothing wrong, said Scott Whitley, special agent in charge of the GBI's Eastman office

Scott remains troubled.

"It bothers me because it affects the integrity of our profession," Scott said. "It affects us all as a whole. .... At the same time, it hurts because of the family. You cannot even fathom what they’re thinking or feeling."