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Suit Claims Mortuary Mishandled Man's Cremated Remains

January 21, 1987|JOHN SPANO | Times Staff Writer

After her husband's funeral on April 12, 1984, Ruth Wiese visited his grave site at a Newport Beach cemetery several times each week.

The 80-year-old grandmother brought fresh flowers, often picked from the rose garden her husband had tended at their Corona del Mar home, about a mile from Pacific View Memorial Park.

Seven weeks after the burial, the grieving widow was shocked when it appeared to her that someone had tampered with the grave site. When she inquired, a cemetery official told her everything was in order and not to worry. He soothingly confirmed that her husband's cremated remains had been buried "on Monday."

Now amazed, Ruth Wiese asked, "Which Monday?"

"Last Monday," he replied.

Mrs. Wiese's lawsuit, scheduled to go to trial this week in Orange County Superior Court, accuses Pacific View of mishandling her husband's remains and asks for an unspecified but substantial amount of damages for breach of contract and emotional distress.

"It was a horrifying experience," she said in an interview. "I shall never get over it, never. I shall just have to live with it."

The mortuary's lawyers contend that the contract for cremation and burial services included no specific directions concerning the date of cremation or burial. The suit claims the $2,000 contract called for "immediate" interment.

"This place is, honest to goodness, a role model for the industry," said Marshall T. Hunt, lawyer for the mortuary. The cemetery is on a hill in Corona del Mar, a "beautiful place, where they handle everything beautifully," Hunt said.

The trial, expected to take about one month before Superior Court Judge Richard N. Parslow Jr., will involve a clash of expert witnesses.

Rival forensic odontologists are expected to testify to sharply different conclusions about remains identified by the mortuary as those of Wiese, exhumed last September.

An artificial tooth discovered in the small copper urn from Wiese's gravesite was definitely not that of the deceased, according to Dr. Homer Campbell, a specialist from Albuquerque scheduled to testify for Wiese.

The ceramic tooth was not destroyed in the furnace at the mortuary, Campbell is expected to testify.

Hunt said there are two explanations.

"The incisor tooth was left over from a prior cremation that the chap who swept out the (furnace) missed. Or somebody has put it there. There are only two options," Hunt said.

The Wiese lawyer, Federico C. Sayre, said his evidence also will include expert testimony indicating that some of the remains had been subject to extreme heat more than once, indicating multiple cremations might have taken place.

Mortuary records, however, clearly and convincingly rebut such a suggestion, Hunt countered.

"Despite all these charges and allegations, as far as I'm concerned, these people (Pacific) did not do anything wrong," Hunt said. "You can tell by the cremation record when these bodies came in, and there's no way multiple cremations could have taken place. The records speak for themselves."

Arthur William Wiese died April 7, 1984, of heart failure at age 85. He was an engineer who founded Bearing Engineers Inc. of the City of Commerce.

The Wieses had married 18 years earlier, and Mrs. Wiese called her late husband a "very wonderful stepfather" to her three children and seven grandchildren.

The widow "has suffered severe doubt and fear as to the present location of the ashes of her husband," according to court papers in the case.

"She does not know where he is buried, if indeed he is buried anywhere," the documents allege.

The Wieses had purchased side-by-side plots in the cemetery. The widow said she now faces a "dilemma" over where she, herself, will be buried.

"It's just part of my grief," Mrs. Wiese said Tuesday. "I feel very sad for my children because they're very upset about what I'm going through with (this) decision (over where to be buried)."

Mrs. Wiese said she is determined to proceed with the lawsuit. "I do want to know what I'm entitled to know," she said.

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