JOHNSTOWN — City police said they discovered human remains at an unregistered North Williams Street funeral whose funeral director was working without a license after executing a search warrant on Friday.
Police, in a news release late Saturday, said they found the remains, which included three bodies and a dozen containers of cremated remains, after executing a search warrant of Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home following a complaint from a family who contracted cremation services through the funeral home but were unable to get in touch with the owner, Brian M. Barnett, for weeks.
Police recovered three bodies, including two that were in “advanced states of decomposition” in a garage located behind the funeral home, according to the release.
“The remains were not stored in a temperature controlled location and were not cared for in any manner,” police said.
The identification of the human remains is being handled by the Fulton County Coroner’s Office in conjunction with the New York State Police Forensic Investigation Unit.
“The Fulton County Coroner’s Office and the Johnstown Police Department will be reaching out to families of the persons recovered as they are formally identified,” police said in the news release. “The investigation is still ongoing and charges are pending.”
The news release detailed the discovery and investigation of the bodies, which stemmed from a complaint from a family on Jan. 10.
Over the course of a four-day investigation, the Johnstown Police said they determined “with the assistance of the New York State Bureau of Funeral Directors” that Barnett’s license to practice as a funeral director was suspended in late November 2021, and that the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home was “not a licensed funeral firm.”
“As such, Brian M. Barnett was not allowed to conduct any funeral services and the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home could not store or handle any deceased persons,” police said.
A spokesperson for the state’s Bureau of Funeral Directing, which oversees funeral operations in New York under the Department of Health, said Barnett’s license was suspended on Nov. 30 for operating an unregistered firm after being sanctioned for the same offense previously and for failing to allow certain records to be inspected.
“Brian M. Barnett’s license was suspended on November 30, 2021 for operating an unregistered firm, after having been previously sanctioned by the department for the same violation, and for denying the department’s requests to inspect funeral firm records which the department is authorized to inspect,” Erin Silk, the spokeswoman, said in an email.
Barnett is still listed as a funeral director with an active registration according to a database of funeral directors compiled by the state, though Silk said his name will be removed.
“The Department takes the oversight of funeral homes very seriously and anyone found to have been unlawfully operating a facility will be investigated and is subject to license suspension or revocation,” she said.
It’s unclear exactly how long Barnett operated the funeral home — which has been active for decades — as an unregistered firm.
Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home does not appear on a state database of open and closed funeral firms, though documents filed with the state’s Department of State show Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home was registered as a limited liability corporation in April of 2014.
According to the funeral home’s Facebook page, Barnett took over the business on July 1, 2014, from Daniel Ehle, the funeral home’s previous owner. Ehle continues to be active in the business as a consultant, according to the Facebook page, though it’s unclear what his exact role is.
Police said after they received the initial complaint on Jan. 10, they made multiple attempts to contact Barnett by phone and in person, but at first were unable to do so until Barnett called them to explain that, “he still had the human remains at the funeral home and no services had been completed in several weeks.”
The Johnstown Police were then able to obtain from Barnett the remains of the person that the original complaint against the business was based upon. The remains were handed over to the A.G. Cole Funeral Home for proper services.
The funeral home could not be reached Sunday.
After the initial body was turned over to police, the investigation continued when, police said, they learned of another deceased person who had been retrieved by Barnett late last year.
“Death records indicated that the person had been cremated,” reads the release. “When contacted, the crematorium listed on the death certificate had no record of a cremation being completed. With all of the information obtained, JPD requested a search warrant; which was granted by the Hon. Michael Smrtic.”
The news release then described how the Johnstown Police detectives said they discovered human remains within the funeral home.
“Detectives noted excess furniture and household items, stored around the remains,” reads the release. “Detectives also noted signs of advanced decomposition, due to the improper handling and storage.”
Police discovered the two additional bodies “both in advanced states of decomposition” within the rear garage amid “a significant amount of garbage and excess furniture.” Police said those remains were removed by the A.G. Cole Funeral Home at the request of the Fulton County Coroner’s Office.
Police said they also located over a dozen containers of cremated remains.
“Some containers listed the identification of the individual, however there were several containers that did not have a visible identification tag and which were open,” police said.
The Johnstown Police Department is asking anyone who had services with the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home that have not received the remains of their loved ones to either contact police at [email protected] or contact the Fulton County Coroner’s Office.
“We ask that family members have the date, time and location of when their loved one passed away,” reads the release. “The Johnstown Police Department would like to thank the A.G. Cole Funeral Home for the respectful handling of the remains.”
Reporter Chad Arnold contributed to this report.