Coroner speaks out on Grave Injustice

Coroner speaks out on Grave Injustice

By Lee Marshall - bio|email
Posted by Dana Franks - email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - On Tuesday night WAFF 48 News brought you the story of a veteran who was buried in a pauper's grave. Now a coroner and funeral director is speaking out about the burial of Blendon Jones, and answers the question of how this could happen.

"Indigent cases are handled with all the respect in this world," said Madison County coroner and funeral director Bobby Berryhill. "We do not discriminate against anybody. Money plays no part."

Berryhill responds anytime there's an unattended death. He responded when Jones, a decorated solider, died alone at home in October.

Jones' common law wife Barbara Payne was out of town visiting her son when Jones died.

"They told me on the phone that the best place for the body to be taken was Berryhill's [Funeral Home], because the coroner worked out of that funeral home, so BJ was taken there," Payne said.

Berryhill contacted Jones' brother in Michigan who couldn't afford a funeral. He and Payne had been together for 20 years, but they never married. She was the love of his life, but by law she had no rights.

"I kept trying to call the funeral home, to find out what's happening, if BJ was going to be buried, where, how," Payne said.

In February, she found out Jones was buried in a pauper's grave in New Market.

"There's just no closure with this, and it's just not right," Payne said.

Berryhill wears two hats in Madison county -- coroner and funeral director.

"I realize that Mr. Jones was a veteran and I respect that," Berryhill told WAFF 48 News. "He was entitled to grave spaces inside a national cemetery, a headstone and the opening and closing of the grave. But the key to that, once we get inside the cemetery, he's entitled to those things. We're 100 to 125 miles from the national cemetery. so that creates another problem for us, so we have guidelines on indigent cases. We can't carry them out of town for burial."

Those guidelines are set by Berryhill Funeral Home. Bobby Berryhill said each pauper is placed in a casket, mostly wooden, and buried three to a grave.

"On Mr. Jones, we take the body, we embalm him, place him in a casket, have a burial service over him, we recite scripture for him, we have prayer over him," Berryhill said. "So he was placed in a grave, like any individual would be, so there's no disrespect whatsoever in Mr. Jones or anyone else."

"[I want him] to be buried in a national cemetery," Payne said. "He's entitled to a bronze plaque that has the date and of their death and birth and the branch of service they were in, and he's entitled to that."

There is a organized effort by veterans' groups across north Alabama to get Jones' remains moved from the pauper's grave to a final resting place in a national cemetery. We will keep you updated as their efforts progress.