Last year police in West Philadelphia were in for an unsettling surprise when they found decomposing and improperly stored bodies in an unlicensed funeral home. Blair Hawkins, a 53-year-old funeral director from New Jersey, faces probation after being found guilty of three counts of abuse of corps for mishandling bodies in his unlicensed funeral home, Hawkins Funeral Service at 53rd and Vine streets.
According to police documents, two of the bodies were decomposing. Another body was improperly embalmed, and kept in a coffin in an unventilated room. One of the bodies was left in a body bag so decomposed that it was impossible to determine the gender, and Hawkins said he could not identify it. To make matters worse, the police also found non-medical bags filled with human organs.
The building where Hawkins Funeral Service was located, was abandoned, and without refrigeration. Philadelphia Police Lt. John Walker said, "You have a responsibility to care for the dead as you are supposed to…You shouldn't cut corners in situations like this where you're using a building that you clearly know has been out of business for some time."
Hawkins, who had an unblemished record as a funeral director since 1989, is not the first funeral director in Pennsylvania accused of mishandling corpses. Just this August police found three decomposing bodies at Powell Mortuary Services, a funeral home that was also operating without a license. Police found one body in a coffin, and two others decomposing in cardboard body boxes.
Pennsylvania statute 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5510, states that “[e]xcept as authorized by law, a person who treats a corpse in a way that he knows would outrage ordinary family sensibilities commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.” Moreover, according to regulations, bodies must be embalmed within 25 hours or refrigerated. In both cases, the bodies were kept without ventilation. The police reported that the bodies were authorized to be cremated.
Debora Flores Franco