(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – A woman is seeking answers from the police after alleging that the body of her 59-year-old father was left to rot beyond recognition at a funeral home resulting in the need for a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test to identify him.
Terry-Ann Roberts, a Jamaican living in the Turks and Caiços Islands (TCI), explained to the Jamaica Observer that her father, former Lance Corporal Leroy Roberts, was found dead in his Spanish Town, St Catherine, home on December 25.
The woman said that his decomposing body was found two days after his death and was removed by a funeral home. This was to ensure an autopsy was done in order to rule out foul play, she said.
The elder Roberts lived alone. “This is March, and up until now we can’t bury him. When I spoke with the investigating officer he said that the reason it took so long was because there was some mix-up with his file. After that was sorted, we got a date for the post-mortem in the early part of February, and when my cousin went to identify his body, the pathologist said he was too badly decomposed so they can’t identify him, so they have to run a DNA,” she told the Observer.
Roberts said she was not given the name of the funeral home, and neither did she know the morgue at which her father’s body was being held, but suggested that it was one with which the Government has a partnership.
“Even if they found him two days later, he was not that bad that we wouldn’t be able to recognise him. It’s been four months and they still have my father. I know that you have persons that went in before him and are buried, and the fact that he is in a state of decomposition so much that we cannot identify him, come on, man! So that means that he wasn’t on ice or anything. I just need an investigation to be done about this. I know I am not the only one with this problem.
“I am angry! Words can’t express how I feel, especially because I am not there [in Jamaica]. Not because they found my father dead alone means he is nobody. He chose to be alone. He wanted to be independent. He has family … They said because nobody identified him at first they were going to give him a pauper’s funeral. My father was a lance corporal in the army. He has a son in England doing his masters, I’m a trained teacher although I’m in TCI working at a hotel; and he has his brothers. Can you imagine you going to bury your father and can’t see what him look like? You can’t even look at him; because of negligence you can’t get to bury your father?” Roberts questioned, adding that the police only contacted the family last Friday to get DNA samples.
The Observer contacted an officer close to the investigation who has denied that negligence played a role in the decomposition of the man’s body.
According to the officer, it was difficult to tell how long after death the man’s body was discovered, despite what his daughter has said.
“We didn’t get much information from community members. They called him a loner. It’s not like he was in contact with anyone. Even the place he was living in was a one-room structure with kitchen and everything in one,” the officer said.
Asked if the body was beyond recognition when it was discovered, the officer said that it was identifiable.
“When the body was found the body was in a decomposed state. The body was sent to a funeral home pending post-mortem. However, to get a date it took some time, and when we did get the dates to do the post-mortem the doctor said that she is not going to allow a family member to come in to identify the body because you couldn’t recognise the person,” the officer said, also adding that the man’s body was, in fact, “kept on ice”.
The cause of death is still not known.
“I don’t believe that the funeral home was negligent, honestly,” the officer stated.
The Observer also contacted a pathologist, who theorised that the rapid decomposition of the body had to do with time and climate.
“Decomposition would depend on the time in which he died, when he was found and how soon after he was placed on ice. In places where it is warm, decomposition takes place faster than elsewhere because microbial action causes the body to decompose, especially in warm places,” the pathologist explained.
The scientist also pointed out that whenever a body is removed from ice, during the defrosting stage, the skin is likely to peel as well.