Friday, December 26, 2014

Jonestown Massacre remains found in Delaware funeral home

The site of the former Minus Funeral Home in Dover, Del., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, where police say the cremated remains of nine victims of a 1978 mass cult suicide-murder in Jonestown, Guyana were discovered. The state Division of Forensic Science has taken possession of the remains, discovered at the former Minus Funeral Home in Dover, and is working to make identifications and notify relatives, the agency and Dover police said in a statement. The division last week responded to a request to check the former funeral home after 38 containers of remains were discovered inside. Thirty-three containers were marked and identified.  They spanned a period from about 1970 to the 1990s and included the Jonestown remains.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The site of the former Minus Funeral Home in Dover, Del., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014, where police say the cremated remains of nine victims of a 1978 mass cult suicide-murder in Jonestown, Guyana were discovered. The state Division of Forensic Science has taken possession of the remains, discovered at the former Minus Funeral Home in Dover, and is working to make identifications and notify relatives, the agency and Dover police said in a statement. The division last week responded to a request to check the former funeral home after 38 containers of remains were discovered inside. Thirty-three containers were marked and identified. They spanned a period from about 1970 to the 1990s and included the Jonestown remains. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP

The remains of nine victims of the Jonestown Massacre have been discovered at a former funeral home in Dover, Del.

Investigators were prompted to check the former Minus Funeral Home, located at 222 N. Queen St., last week after 38 small containers of cremated remains were discovered inside the building, the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Dover Police Department announced in a joint news release.

A representative of a bank that had taken ownership of the former funeral home, which was last licensed to operate in 2012, contacted authorities after coming across the remains, Dover police spokesman Cpl. Mark Chandler said.

Of the 38 containers, 33 were clearly marked and identified, spanning a period from 1970 through the 1990s, investigators said.

Nine of those remains were identified as victims of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, during which more than 900 members of an American religious cult died of apparent cyanide poisoning in a settlement in northwestern Guyana.

Chandler called the discovery “a huge shock.”

“To know that right within our jurisdiction, literally six blocks north of the police station, something of such historical significance that had such an impact on our culture is sitting right there, it’s pretty mind-blowing, to say the least,” he said.

Immediately following the Jonestown Massacre, the bodies of those who died were taken to the Dover Air Force Base, home to one of the world’s largest mortuaries.

From there, the exact path of the nine victims recently found is unclear.

“We don’t know how these remains, in particular, ended up at Minus,” Chandler said. “Our assumption would be they were unclaimed by family members and the funeral home had no idea where to send them, so they cremated them and held on to them for this long.”

Agents with the Forensic Science Division of the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security took possession of all the remains found on the site. Staff will continue working to arrange for their final disposition.

“Our primary goal right now is to reach out to the family members and let them know we have [the remains] and they can certainly claim them,” Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokeswoman Kimberly Chandler said.

Also found in the funeral home were several bronze grave markers for veterans who served in World War I through the Vietnam War, officials said. The markers will be presented to family members or returned to the Veterans Administration if family members can’t be located.

Though the remains' discovery prompted an exploratory excavation of the grounds surrounding the funeral home, no additional remains were found.

Investigators did recover an arrowhead, two animal bones, oyster shells and charcoal.

They are likely relics from a church that once inhabited the property and hosted clambakes and barbecues in the backyard, Chandler said.


Contact Alex Wigglesworth at 215-854-2305 or awigglesworth@philly.com. Follow @phila_lex on Twitter.

Contact the Breaking News Desk at 215-854-2443; BreakingNewsDesk@philly.com. Follow @phillynews on Twitter.

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