Investigation into improper body storage at funeral home contracted by Whatcom County


Both Whatcom County and the state of Washington have begun independent investigations into allegations that human remains were improperly stored at a Bellingham funeral home contracted by the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s (ME) Office.

The Washington State Department of Licensing and the Whatcom County Prosecutor’s Office have each begun investigations after multiple bodies were kept at Moles Farewell Tributes and Crematory Center without refrigeration over the weekend of May 11 and 12, violating state law. The prosecutor’s office hired Bundy Law Group, an independent firm, to conduct its investigation.

In June 2023, the ME office began renting space at Moles’ Bayview Chapel in Bellingham to be used as a morgue and autopsy area with three refrigeration spaces and additional storage at its Ferndale location while renovations were being completed at the ME’s downtown Bellingham office.

The county contracts Dr. Allison Hunt of Hunt Forensics to be medical examiner. Hunt and Moles submitted conflicting accounts on who was responsible for the improper storage, according to legal documents from the county prosecutor’s office.

Company president John Moles has stated that the funeral home was not at fault for the improper storage, as it was simply operating as a landlord while the ME office conducted its business.

Moles wrote the company could not move the deceased without a formal request from the ME office, which holds legal responsibility for the deceased. Moles said the company told the ME office it was available to transfer bodies to a different facility in Ferndale on May 10, but never received a request.

“When we returned to work Monday, May 13, we discovered that no one had picked up the decedents,” the statement read. “It was the sole responsibility of the Medical Examiner’s Office to make arrangements for the proper handling of those decedents. It’s understandable why families are distraught over this situation and we are heartbroken over this mismanagement and negligence by the Medical Examiner’s Office.”

Moles ended its contract with the ME office soon after the incident. The county has since entered into a facility-use agreement with Simple Cremation in Bellingham to provide space for autopsies and storage, but not morgue services for the county, said Jed Holmes, community outreach facilitator at the Whatcom County Executive’s Office. Renovations to the ME’s Bellingham office are expected to be complete by fall.

“We are confident that we have sufficient storage capacity for the short term and are working to ensure our long-term needs are taken care of as well,” he said.

The ME office investigates sudden, violent or suspicious deaths, and issues death certificates. The office has roughly five full-time and five part-time employees.

During a May 21 meeting, Whatcom County Council voted 5-2 to begin the process of reclassifying ME workers as county employees. Prior to that vote, the office was operating as an independent contractor, one of the only ME offices in the state to operate as such. With the vote, an additional $1.2 million in funding was granted to the office to help with the transition and hiring.

The benefits of becoming a county-run office include better chances at obtaining grant funding and accreditation, which will be required by state law for all ME offices by the end of 2025, Holmes said.

“I think if anything, this situation really did highlight that we need to have this very core county service in-house and being performed by county employees,” Holmes said.

Deputy prosecutor George Roche said during the June 18 county council meeting that the goal date for the investigation to be complete was roughly early July.

County councilmember Ben Elenbaas said during the June 18 meeting that multiple whistleblowers have described to him the improper body storage that occurred in June.

“I’m not an investigator, I’m not in the industry, but when people in the industry tell me that what they’re seeing isn’t right and isn’t normal, I think that deserves more than a phone call,” Elenbaas said. “Somebody needs to figure out who’s responsible for that happening because if that was one of my children, or my brother or my mother – which, all of these people are someone’s – I would be crawling out of my skin to make sure that everyone knew who screwed up.”


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