California officials are working to find the families of more than 150 people whose remains were discovered in a warehouse used by a cremation company that had its license suspended, the authorities said.
Six bodies and the cremated remains of 154 other people were recovered on March 1 at the warehouse in Hayward, Calif., just southeast of San Francisco in Alameda County, the county coroner’s bureau said. The discovery was made after the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau received complaints that the company, Oceanview Cremations, had stopped responding to customers, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office said in a release.
Captain April Luckett-Fahimi of the sheriff’s office described the discovery as “very unusual. It’s not something that we deal with on a normal basis at all,” she said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s not something we were expecting to find.”
The remains were from 15 Northern California counties, mostly Alameda, and were dated between 2013 to 2021. It was not clear why the remains were in storage. California law states that a body cannot be held pending disposition, which includes handling and placement of the body after death, for more than eight calendar days post-mortem, unless a permit for disposition is issued by the local registrar where the death occurred or where the body was found.
Oceanview Cremations at one point had a corporate license, but it was suspended in 2018, the sheriff’s office said. The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau learned of the suspension on Feb. 28, 2023, when it was notified by the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau that the business had continued to operate and kept remains in a warehouse that was unauthorized to store remains.
Families of the deceased told the authorities that the company’s owner, Robert Smith, had not responded to their inquiries when they sought to retrieve the remains.
The sheriff’s office said the families “believed their loved ones had been cremated or scattered at sea as requested.”
Online customer reviews about Oceanview Cremations claim that the company did not scattered loved ones’ remains as promised. The business was listed as permanently closed online, and a phone number listed for the company was not working on Wednesday.
The coroner’s bureau has identified five of the six bodies found, and the families of the deceased have been contacted and told about the investigation.
The sixth body has not been identified because the cremation company’s owner “was not able to produce any viable information about the location of death or the next of kin,” the sheriff’s office said.
The bureau took possession of two bodies. A local mortuary working with the county took possession of the other four bodies and the cremated remains and has since sorted and alphabetized the cremated remains.
Officials are using different public databases to find the relatives of the deceased, Capt. Luckett-Fahimi said.
Alain Delaquérière contributed to this report.