Originally created 03/05/02

Authorities begin draining lake near crematorium



LaFAYETTE, Ga. -- Authorities began draining a lake Monday near the crematory where more than 300 corpses have been discovered, fearing they might find more bodies at the bottom.

Thick pipes drew enough water out to drop the lake level by 6 inches, authorities said. They estimate the lake outside Tri-State Crematory is 8 feet deep at its deepest point.

The draining should be finished by week's end, officials said.

Also Monday, authorities disclosed for the first time that tests showed the crematory's incinerator works properly. That would discount claims by crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh, who investigators say claims the incinerator was broken.

But the machine's manufacturer successfully tested it last week, said Lisa Ray, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

Marsh, who faces 118 charges of theft by deception and is accused of taking money for cremations he never performed, was denied bail Monday. During the hearing, District Attorney Buzz Franklin revealed that photos saved on Marsh's office computer showed "bodies in various states of decomposition."

Franklin declined to elaborate at a news conference later in the day.

Superior Court Judge William R. Hill did not release a decision on a gag order he imposed on investigators Feb. 21. The judge held a hearing Friday on an appeal.

Magistrate Judge Jerry Day said he denied bond for the 28-year-old Marsh because more charges were likely and because his attorney, Ken Poston, failed to explain how Marsh would cover a bond.

Prosecutors said they worried Marsh might be killed if released.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson testified that at a victims' meeting one woman said she wanted to hang Marsh. Her threat was met with thunderous applause, Wilson said.

Poston said discussing such threats against Marsh could increase public antipathy toward his client.

"If that isn't inviting trouble and torches and ropes, then I don't know what is," Poston said. "They want to basically give a public notice as to when he's getting out of jail."

It was Marsh's third bond hearing since the grisly discovery Feb. 15 of dozens of rotting corpses stacked in garages and stuffed into vaults at the Tri-State Crematory.

So far, 339 sets of human remains have been recovered from the 16-acre pine grove around the building that housed the crematory furnace, which Marsh has said was broken. Officials said they cannot charge Marsh with a crime until they identify the corpses he allegedly mistreated. Ninety-seven sets of remains have been identified.

Officials decided to drain the lake after finding a skull and torso in a cursory search of the secluded lake. They plan to search the lake bottom after it dries, a process likely to take more than a week.

Hundreds of people have brought remains for testing to see if the ashes are human. Ten to 15 percent of the remains have been found to be cement powder, dirt or burned wood, not human ashes.

Emergency Management Agency officials said Tuesday was the last day relatives could bring ashes for immediate testing. They said starting Wednesday, families would be allowed to drop off remains but would have to wait several days to be told whether those remains are human.

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On the Net:

Information for families: http://www.gema.state.ga.us

Walker County sheriff: http://www.co.walker.ga.us/cd(underscore)14.htm

Georgia Bureau of Investigation: http://www.state.ga.us/gbi