Funeral Director Charged in Alleged Burial Scams
CROSS PLAINS, Tenn. (AP) _ Anxious relatives opened kinfolks’ graves Friday after several families discovered that their loved ones had been buried with trash in their coffins or with no coffin at all.
Some families who hired funeral director Bobby Wilks have found bottles, newspapers, discarded flower arrangements and bags of hair in caskets. Some caskets were not protected by vaults that had been paid for.
″One (corpse) had an old metal flower pot on top of his head. It was like he (Wilks) was mad at them all,″ said gravedigger Darrell Dowdell.
Wilks was charged Friday in nearby Springfield with six counts of obtaining money under false pretenses, authorities said. Arraignment is scheduled Monday.
The family of Ollie Carter watched while his grave at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church was uncovered, revealing that a protective vault bought by his survivors was not installed over his casket.
They said their case was similar to those described by other customers of Barber Funeral Home, who say Wilks asked them to leave the gravesite before the caskets were lowered into the ground and covered.
″Honey would drip out of his mouth,″ said Ann Carter, daughter-in-law of Ollie Carter. ″He would come over and put his arm around you and say it would be best if the family didn’t see the casket put in the ground and the dirt thrown on top.″
At least 14 graves in Robertson and Sumner counties, north of Nashville, had been opened, authorities said.
At least two caskets were found buried on their sides, and one was left open with an arm hanging out, witnesses said. At least 10 caskets contained trash, and one body was uncovered with no casket at all.
The Robertson County Health Department issued 23 disinterment permits by early Friday afternoon and had calls inquiring about permits, secretary Paulette Cowan said. That does not necessarily reflect how many graves were being opened; she said a permit is not required if relatives seek disinterment.
Wilks, who served as a Robertson County commissioner several years ago, was admired and respected by the community, Bonnie Clinard of Springfield said as she watched exhumations in the Cross Plains Cemetery.
″I’ve known him all my life,″ she said. ″There wasn’t nothing he wouldn’t do for nobody. People didn’t give him nothing but a good name. For him to do something like this is crazy.″
Dowdell, the grave drigger, said Wilks had been burying about 60 people a year in Robertson and Sumner counties for about 20 years.
Wilks, from Milldale in Robertson County, was first arrested Oct. 7 after survivors of Danny Pitt told authorities Wilks buried the body without the $375 vault they purchased to cover the casket.
Family members became suspicious when Wilks asked them to leave before Pitt’s casket was lowered into a grave. Donald Flatt told authorities he and other pallbearers left but stayed out of sight nearby. They said Wilks tossed flower pots into the grave and never put the vault on the casket.
Wilks was charged with fraud and attempting to commit a felony, and was released on bond. His son, Gary Wilks, also was arrested then and charged with larceny, authorities said.
Since then, at least 10 more families have filed complaints, Robertson County Sheriff Bill Norman said.
Wilks, 52, was arrested again Friday by Robertson County sheriffs’ deputies when he checked out of the Tennessee Christian Medical Center in Madison, Robertson County Chief Deputy Milton Frederick.
″We had made arrangements to make the arrest when he was released,″ Frederick said. Center officials refused to discuss why Wilks was there. Wilks did not reply when asked for comment while being led away.
After his arrest Friday, Wilks was held in lieu of $82,500 bond in Robertson County.
But if he posts bond, he will quickly be back in custody.
Sumner County Chief of Detectives George Farmer said Wilks is charged there with one count of larceny by use of false pretenses, and that his officers would pick up Wilks as soon as they are alerted by Robertson County authorities that Wilks has made bond.
Sheriff’s Detective Ed Nicholson said it was possible that more charges would be filed against Wilks in Robertson County because more relatives of people he had buried had discussed filing complaints.