Ohio police: Man dumped ashes, sold urns for scrap

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CINCINNATI (AP) -- An Ohio man is accused of stealing cremation urns, dumping remains and taking the urns to sell at a scrap yard in the Cincinnati area, where city officials have pushed tough new restrictions on scrap metal sales aimed at curbing theft.

Cincinnati Cremation Co. owner Don Catchen told The Cincinnati Enquirer (http://cin.ci/zWtlwM ) that three of 20 stolen bronze urns had contained the ashes of deceased people. Those ashes have been found and identified. Catchen said they were still in their original individual plastic bags, but had been hidden on a shelf.

Seventeen of the urns were new, valued at more than $20,000 total.

Former crematory employee Alan Smith was arrested Tuesday on charges of theft, vandalism and damaging a memorial to the dead. The 26-year-old was being held Wednesday in Hamilton County Jail pending a court appearance. No attorney was listed for him.

Catchen said he had fired Smith in late January over attendance problems and other issues. Later, he found the three bags of ashes and then noticed that urns were missing from the crematory.

He said he would consult records to replace the urns with the specific style they were originally in. They came from an older room -- the people had died several decades ago --where the urns with remains are kept in "niches," or cubes that have locked doors.

Police said they are still investigating, but they charged Smith after an interview in which he was asked about the missing urns. Police didn't immediately say how much he allegedly sold the urns for or where.

Catchen said he's never had such a problem at the crematory, which dates to the 19th century and houses remains of more than 11,000 people. He said a complete inventory will be done to make sure no other remains have been disturbed.

"My stomach's been churning and rolling ever since (he found the bags of ashes)," he said. He said he has been trying to track down the next of kin of the three people to let them know what happened.

The City Council could vote as soon as Wednesday on restrictions requiring licenses, criminal background checks and a two-day wait to get paid for scrap metal sellers.

"How low can you go, to actually take the urns of someone's loved ones?" said councilman Cecil Thomas, an advocate of the new restrictions. "It just goes to show we're on the right track to make it difficult for individuals to unload those kinds of items."

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Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com

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