Members of a Dallas family have filed a lawsuit against a well-known funeral home alleging they were given the wrong ashes. Meanwhile, a former employee accused the same funeral home of stacking bodies in a U-Haul and mishandling bodies.
The owner of Golden Gate Funeral Home strongly denies the claims and said it’s not true.
Mother’s wish was to be cremated
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Conora, Annetra, Milton and Melody Palmer Anderson lost their mother, Virginia Palmer Rankin on Dec. 19, 2019.
“She was our everything, we love her and still do and miss her so much,” said Annetra, who is the youngest.
The sibling said their mother, who was also known as ‘Nora’ was the pillar of their family.
“She was a force to be reckoned with, especially when it came to her kids, nobody messed with Nora’s kids, because they didn’t want to deal with Nora,” laughed Conora, the eldest daughter.
Their mother dealt with underlying health issues, and her death at the age of 63 continues to be a raw pain for the entire family.
“The one thing my mom always said was, ‘Don't be bury me, cremate me. When I die cremate me,’ explained Conora in regard to her mother’s wishes.
She said they chose Golden Gate Funeral Home, located on I-35 in South Oak Cliff, after attending a different family member’s funeral service a month before at the same location.
“We made sure from sunup to sundown that everything was right for our mama,” said Conora.
They held the funeral service for their mother on January 4, 2020, but she and her family were not happy with the wake for Virginia. They were upset another person’s slide continued to show up on their monitor in the room they were assigned. But, that’s not the family’s main complaint.
In the lawsuit filed against Golden Gate Funeral Home, the family alleges that they were never notified of their mother’s cremation and were promised they could witness it. The family also states they were provided with an identification number that did not match the documentation on the box of ashes they received.
“Now we're more distraught than ever because we will never know who was in this box,” said Melody.
Melody said she had followed up with the funeral home multiple times to see when the cremation would take place, but told there were delays due to different documentation such as the death certificate.
“I was like, ‘Oh okay, so, where's my mom,” said Melody as she recalled a conversation with an employee. “She was like,’ Oh, she's still here, she’s here at the funeral home, we’re keeping her refrigerated.”
Melody said she continued to follow up on January 24, 25 and 26. But on January 27, when her sister, Annetra, went to pick up the death certificate, she was also given something else.
“I just asked her (an employee) one question, ‘So when are y’all going to cremate my mama?’ and she said, ’I’ll be right back.'”
Annetra said the employee handed her a box of ashes.
“She called me distraught, like, 'I have these ashes, they said, you know, mommas been cremated, and we have to have the ashes right here!’ And I was like, ‘No, calm down,'” replied Melody in response to her sister’s phone call at the time.
Melody said she drove to the funeral to try and iron out what was happening.
“She was like, ‘You know Mrs. Anderson I just checked the refrigerator, I checked all the bodies, your mother is not back there, I just checked everything.’ And at that point, I became, you know, livid,” said Melody.
The black box of ashes they received was dated January 6, 2020.
“As you heard from the Palmer family they were calling well after that, the 24, 25, 26. and being told, ‘No we still have her body here,” said Jack Hales Jr., one of the family’s attorneys.
“We can't tell if it's (their) mom or not, the paperwork shows that it's not,” said Ryan Sellers, their other attorney.
The lawsuit alleges the family was given an identification number that did not match the remains they received and goes on to claim, “defendant’s documents show hand-written numbers added to several documents but failed to provide any meaningful manner to tracking Virginia’s remains. Further still, defendants had not shown that it acquired statutorily required documents for authorizing cremation and identification of remains.”
The Palmer family’s attorney provided the sheet they were given, but it’s not specific as to what each piece of note-taking means.
“It’s like I’m living it all over again, and it’s the fact we’ll never have closure, we’ll never get the closure we need,” said Conora as she cried.
“We’re very good at what we do,” said John Beckwith Jr., Owner of Golden Gate Funeral Home
John Beckwith Jr. owns Golden Gate Funeral Home, a well-known family business that’s been in operation since 1980.
The established funeral home said last year alone they provided services for 3,000 families. Beckwith strongly denies the allegations.
“We’re very good at what we do, one of the reasons why we own our own crematory is so that we never get that mixed up,” said Beckwith. “Each person is identified by at least two people, the crematory operator as well as a supervisor, so there’s no way we would ever get anyone mixed up.”
In regards to providing documentation, he said because it’s now a legal matter he couldn’t provide it, but said there is a stainless steel toe tag that is inside the bag of ashes, which would also identify the remains.
“We’re one of the few African American owned crematories and we do everything right here at Golden Gate Funeral Homes,” said Beckwith.
The Texas Funeral Service Commission, a state agency that’s made up of seven board members appointed by the governor, oversees funeral home operations.
In an email, TFSC executive director, Glenn Bower, said there are currently nine complaints filed against Golden Gate Funeral Home at both of its Dallas and Fort Worth locations. Bower said he couldn’t talk about the nature of the complaints because they’re currently open investigations.
Beckwith said to his company’s defense, that with handling around 400 funerals a month, it’s not unusual to have some complaints.
“We don’t get a lot (of complaints), last year we had almost 3,000 families, so maybe 10 out of 3,000,” said Beckwith about the complaints. “To me, that’s more (complaints) than what we need, but we have some families that are just not satisfied at the end of the day, if that’s not the case, we do everything can to try and satisfy them.”
“So anytime a family is upset, they have a right to write a complaint to the funeral service commission, then in return write me a letter with what the complaint is and give me the opportunity to answer those,” said Beckwith.
Bower said neither location has been found in violation of any filed complaints in the past five years.
Former employee files complaint
One of the complaints is from a former employee, Isaiah Darris, who said he worked at Golden Gate Funeral Home for six months and left in Feb. of this year.
He said he took pictures of what he described as bodies stacked in a U-Haul that were not embalmed and not fully covered. Darris alleges the vehicle was on Golden Gate Funeral Home’s property in the back.
“I took that picture because I was in shock,” said Darris. “In the back of the morgue, there were bodies stacked up all over the place, there were bodies that were just sitting in the hallways.”
Darris said he resigned from the company, and wanted to bring to light what he saw, but Beckwith said he was fired and describes him as a ‘disgruntled’ ex-employee, something Darris denies.
“I’ve definitely seen the pictures, I received a letter from Mr. Darris after I fired him, about three days after he was fired and he asked for a bribe basically and tried to extort the funeral home for money,” alleges Beckwith, who believes the photos were staged. “Very disturbing first of all about the photos. No, there’s definitely not been a U-Haul here that stored any bodies and the other photos that he showed were deceased people not covered. I was really disturbed by that. We have about 105 employees, we are a very busy funeral home, we’re never alone.”
“We have nothing to hide, no one can tell you that they’ve seen a U-Haul here, that they’ve ever seen us misplace any loved ones here that just don’t happen at Golden Gate Funeral Home,” said Beckwith.
Other complaints made
A non-profit called the Funeral Consumers Alliance of North Texas said it too has received complaints from the same funeral home.
“In all cases what’s consistent in the complaints with Golden Gate is when the consumer calls back, they get stonewalled or not answered at all,” said Jim Bates who runs the non-profit.
“I would ask for them to come personally speak with me, I’m the owner, I’m the CEO my office is the first office when you walk through the door, I have an open-door policy,” said Beckwith.
As for the Palmer’s family’s concerns, they said after multiple attempts they finally did have a sit down with the owner but said it didn’t go well and they didn’t get the answers they wanted about their mother’s remains.
Beckwith said he did meet with the Palmer family and confirmed they asked for a refund, but refused because he doesn’t believe his company did anything wrong.
“I'm going to fight for my mama because that was my mama, you mistreated my mama and she didn’t let nobody mistreat us,” expressed Conora.
The dispute is now in the hands of both sides’ attorneys and the court.