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Son Seeks Permission to Bury His Father

Death: Stepmother, who can't be located, has legal say over disposal of the body, which had lain in house for seven months.

July 20, 2001|DOUGLAS HABERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Danny Harbin Jr. awoke at 2 a.m. Wednesday to the phone ringing. It was the San Bernardino County coroner office with news that his father's body had been found at home--where it had lain since December.

Sheriff's deputies discovered the decomposing and partially mummified body of Danny Harbin Sr., 55, after receiving a tip that a Rancho Cucamonga woman had kept her husband's body in their bedroom since his death months earlier.

On top of the shock, the younger Harbin, 30, of Azusa is angry. His stepmother, he said Thursday, "should be charged with everything they could possibly charge her on."

San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives are releasing little information about the case as they await results of an autopsy scheduled for today. But Det. Brad Phillips said no charges against Judy Harbin are being considered at this point. She had no financial motive for concealing her husband's death, he said.

The son's greatest concern now is to gain custody of his father's body so he can bury him. Judy Harbin is the only person with that legal authority, and she is unreachable, he said. "I haven't been able to find her," he said. "I have no way of burying him, because she has control over his body."

The elder Harbin grew up in Salt Lake City, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and moved to California in 1971. He divorced the mother of Harbin, his only child, and about 18 years ago married Judy, whom he met in a Los Angeles bar. In November 1999, he was a manager at a city of Commerce envelope and packaging manufacturer when he was diagnosed with melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer.

"He took it pretty well," his son said.

Last summer, Harbin saw his father frequently, going out to dinner with him often and once having a professional photographer take a picture of the two of them, their last photo together.

He last saw his father in early November. After that it became almost impossible to get in touch with his stepmother so he could visit, he said.

His 43-year-old half sister, Linda Rivera, said she stayed in touch with the elder Harbin, who was not her father. But she could no longer reach him in December, she said. Once, Judy Harbin told her he was sleeping, she said. When she called back a few days later, the phone was disconnected.

Judy Harbin told detectives her husband died in December and that his dying wish was to be kept at home with her instead of being buried or cremated.

But even as far back as the day after Thanksgiving, the son felt something wasn't quite right, he said. He recalled going to his father's Rancho Cucamonga house that day and finding a note on the door saying the Harbins had gone to see relatives for the holidays. His father was so weak from the cancer and cancer treatments that "he had problems making the trip down to chemotherapy" at a nearby hospital, Harbin said.

After the father died, Judy Harbin kept his body on the master bedroom floor in his Azurite Avenue home, sheriff's officials said. According to neighbors, she moved out and returned once a week to feed a dog she had left there. Rats and roaches took over the home, which was littered with dog feces, Harbin said.

"He just didn't deserve that," Rivera said.

Rancho Cucamonga Police Sgt. Don Yoder said Judy Harbin has moved repeatedly and has no permanent address.

Friends from a local bar went to the house after she told them about her husband's body, Yoder said. They smelled the odor and called police.

While he deals with the upset and anger, the son said he is focusing on obtaining his father's body.

"The main thing," he said, "is for me to get him buried."

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