Wadesboro police identified the second body found in the former F&M McLendon Funeral Home as Henry Thomas Garris on Wednesday.
Garris, 63, was from Wadesboro. He died on Nov. 23, 2011, but his body was found by the Wadesboro Police Department on June 4, along with the body of Marshall Ray Allen. After funeral home owner Mary McLendon-Brown was ordered by a judge to reveal the location of Allen’s body, she led officers to both bodies inside the closed funeral home. Until Wednesday, the identity of Garris’ body was a mystery.
Although this was not the first time neglected bodies were found in the funeral home (three others were found in November of 2010), Wadesboro Police Chief Thedis Spencer said that his department had no reason to suspect that Garris’ and Allen’s bodies were inside the funeral home. After the funeral home was shut down and the first three bodies were removed in 2010, McLendon reopened it briefly before closing again, and acquired the two additional bodies in that brief time frame.
In the first case, Spencer said police officers were asked by the Anson County Sheriff’s Office to help with a foreclosure lock-out at the funeral home. Officers then helped deputies identify and remove the three bodies that were found in the funeral home. Although the bodies were several months old and neglected until Sheriff Tommy Allen arranged for Leavitt Funeral Home to keep the bodies until family members made funeral arrangements, the WPD did not press charges against McLendon.
Spencer said that police investigated the identity of the bodies and why they were still in the funeral home, ultimately determining that “there was not a crime resulting from the bodies remaining at the funeral home and that there was not a crime with respect to the financial aspect of the funeral services, either.” Officers alerted the family members of the deceased and turned the case over to the North Carolina Board of Funeral Directors.
Spencer said that the WPD continued to work with the N.C. Board of Funeral Directors investigator Carolyn Connors for several years, investigating multiple complaints of misconduct at F&M. During this time, McLendon was able to work matters out with her bank and reopen. “It was during this time that Marshall Ray Allen passed away and his body was turned over to Mary McLendon-Brown and F&M Funeral Home,” Spencer said.
The funeral board revoked her license and the funeral home closed again. “This closure was a civil matter and therefore not within the jurisdiction of the Wadesboro Police Department,” Spencer explained. “If officers were asked to accompany the North Carolina Board of Funeral Directors in closing F&M McLendon Funeral Home it would only be in a peacekeeping role and therefore not legally justified to search” the funeral home.
As it was, the WPD did not know Allen’s body was in the building. “At no point prior to the sentencing portion of the tiral, State of North Carolina vs. Mary McLendon-Brown, did any officer of the Wadesboro Police Department have independent reasonable suspicion to believe that the body of Marshall Ray Allen was inside the building formally operated as F&M McLendon Funeral Home and therefore no search warrant could be obtained,” Spencer said.
While Allen’s body was quickly identified, detectives worked with the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner’s Office before positively identifying Garris on July 2.
On June 4, McLendon was sentenced to 6-17 months in prison for obtaining property by false pretenses after accepting money to take a body to the crematorium but failing to do so. She is being held at the N.C. Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh. As the investigation involving Garris is still ongoing, Spencer said no decision regarding any possible charges has yet been made.