A man has pleaded guilty in court to falsifying the details on death registration documents. Families thought their loved ones were being cremated nearby, when in fact it wasn't the case at all.
It's one of the toughest things life throws up, and when someone dies is when a family is at its most vulnerable. And that's exactly when Anthony James took advantage.
The Gold Coast-based funeral director would load his station wagon with up to four bodies at a time, and drive them eight hours north to Rockhampton to be cremated on the cheap, despite telling the families they were being cremated locally.More stories from Today Tonight
Helen Taylor lost her husband Michael in a motorcycle accident.
“I can think of the things that he said that were nice, but I can understand why he said them, because it was a lead up or a set up. I fell into this trap,” Helen said.
Helen thought Michael was being cremated at Mount Gravatt on Brisbane’s South Side. That was up until police contacted her for a second time about her husband's death.
“I've been through months of crying and being very upset and depressed over it, and I'm at the point where I want answers and I want justice,” Helen said.
Sisters Marg and Trish Mcgrath thought their mother had been cremated on the Gold Coast. Now both the sisters and Helen aren't even sure the loved ones they're holding onto are theirs.
“I think he's a creep. I think he's a con artist, he's a rip off, he's a sociopath. He doesn't care about people,” Marg said.
However James says there were no mix ups.
According to him what they women had asked for was their loved ones to be cremated in Brisbane. The fact is the cremations would cost a fraction of the price in Rockhampton.
The scheme lasted for eighteen months before police caught up with James. By that time he had cremated 59 bodies and accumulated a profit of over $30,000.
He escaped scrutiny by falsifying the details on the death registration documents and that’s what brought him undone.
He faced court on 89 charges yesterday. Fifteen of those carried a maximum jail term of fourteen years. He received a twelve month suspended sentence after pleading guilty.
The families are yet to receive a formal apology but Helen was there as the magistrate handed down the sentence.
“I could not believe the lies that came out today,” Helen said following the hearing.
Doris Zagdanski from the Australian Funeral Directors Association says there need to be tighter regulations on the industry.
“I think it's too easy to become a funeral director. There's no qualifications that are required, there's no licensing required. You simply need the funds to be able to set up a business and away you go,” Zagdanski said.
James is still practicing, though apparently he's no longer in the long haul funeral freighting business. His new business name is Elysian Fields Funerals.This reporter is on Twitter at @AdamMarshallTT
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