Funeral director accused of mishandling remains vanishes

Dawn M. Kurry Richmond County Daily Journal

September 19, 2013

The death of Larry Russell’s career as a funeral director in North Carolina drew near when the Rockingham Police Department found the remains of Virginia Jones inside the Russell-Marks Funeral Home in Rockingham “surrounded by scented candles with partial decomposition of one hand,” according to the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service.

“We were not happy to find Mrs. Jones had not been cremated,” said Peter Burke, executive director of the funeral board. “It’s not supposed to happen and that’s why Mr. Russell — among a number of other things — got in trouble.”

Larry Russell, owner and operator of Russell-Marks Funeral Home & Cremation Service, Inc. in Rockingham, was issued a summary of suspension in June and investigated by the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service, which subsequently held a hearing on Aug. 14 in Raleigh. According to the board, Russell did not attend the hearing, which “made the choice easy.”

The hearing lasted two days, covered more than 125 exhibits of evidence against Russell, and concluded in the revocation of his funeral service license. According to Burke, Russell can no longer practice funeral services of any kind in the state of North Carolina.

However, he may attempt it elsewhere, as he is nowhere to be found.

“Our information is that he has left the state but we don’t know where he is,” said Burke.

Russell mismanaged, violated and didn’t properly file preneed contracts, resulting in “about $63,000 just (being) gone,” said Burke.

The dispute that lead to the investigation escalated between the family members of deceased Virginia Jones and Russell in June when confusion arose as to where Jones’ remains were located. According to a crematory in a neighboring county, the family called to confirm the status of the cremation, at which point the family learned that the crematory had not received the deceased. The family contacted the Rockingham Police Department which then made a visit to Russell-Marks Funeral Home to check on the status of the deceased.

Rockingham Police Det. Donovan Young testified at the hearing, according to the board. The findings have prompted an investigation by the Rockingham Police Department that Young said is currently “still under investigation.”

A separate incident, the cremation of Betsy Marsh, remains a mystery, due to Russell’s mishandling of her remains, officials said. According to the funeral board, Marsh died on May 2, 2013, and Deborah Bibee is her surviving daughter. Russell agreed to cremate the remains of Marsh and, “On or about May 14, 2013, (Russell) returned a temporary container from Argyll Crematorium to Deborah Bibee that had the incorrect date of death for Betsy Marsh,” according to the board. It wasn’t until May 22 that Russell filed the death certificate for Marsh and filed the death certificate listing Argyll Crematory as the performing crematory, but Argyll Crematory was never retained to perform the cremation of Betsy Marsh, said the board.

“(Russell) did not cremate Betsy Marsh in North Carolina and did not obtain a burial-transit permit before removing her body to another state,” said the board. “(Russell) returned an unknown substance to the survivors of Betsy Marsh that may not have been her cremated remains.”

According to the board, Russell failed to file at least seven death certificates within five days of death, and failed to file at least three notifications of death within 24 hours of death, as required. Russell used an unapproved preneed contract form, and also deposited preneed funeral funds into an account other than a preneed clearing account. Russell failed to deposit all preneed funeral funds into a trust account or insurance policy within five business days of receipt. He sold preneed funeral contracts and made funded funeral prearrangement without first obtaining a preneed license from the board, and failed to file preneed contracts within 10 days of sale. Among these findings, the board also concluded that Russell “embezzled and fraudulently, knowingly and willingly misapplied and converted preneed funeral funds to a use other than as authorized by law.”

Perhaps the most noteworthy of the long list of findings the board compiled against Russell are that he “failed to treat the human remains of Betsy Marsh and Virginia Jones with respect at all times” and that his “conduct constitutes gross immorality in the practice of funeral service.”

Furthermore, Russell was not in compliance with the City of Rockingham’s laws, regulations and requirements that pertained to his building and the type of business he could conduct. Russell was refused a permit by the city to operate funeral service in his building on Rockingham Road, and he practiced funeral services outside a funeral establishment without first registering with the board. The board said Russell also engaged in false or misleading advertisement.

The board lists Russell’s violations for nearly three pages, and concludes the findings by saying that “A copy of this Final Agency Decision shall be forwarded to the Richmond County District Attorney.”

Richmond County District Attorney Reece Saunders was not available for comment. Multiple calls and voicemails from the Daily Journal to Larry Russell were not responded to.

Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at