Beginning Feb. 15, 2002, nearly a decade ago, 334 bodies were found at Tri-State Crematory. They were stacked in vaults, tossed in buildings, thrown in holes and cast into woods. Some were still inside their
coffins; some had been lying out in the open for nearly five years.
The findings would disgust local police, haunt families and spark a national debate about the worth of the dead.
Police charged Tommy Ray Brent Marsh, who ran the family crematory business, with hundreds of felonies. He later pleaded guilty and remains in prison.
More than $100 million was paid out in federal class-action lawsuits against Marsh and the funeral homes that had sent bodies to the crematory. State and local government spent nearly $10 million on cleanup and recovery.
No one knows the exact number of families affected, but attorneys in the lawsuits estimated the count at nearly 2,000.
In the end, what happened in the little town about 25 miles from Chattanooga led to changes in the way the nation regulates crematories. It prompted states to pass stricter laws giving public officials greater access to their books and, in Georgia, to make it a crime to throw out a corpse.