Decomposing corpse found after more than a week inside funeral home's hearse.
The owner of a Graham, North Carolina funeral home who police said left a body inside a hearse for nine days says his hands were tied because he didn't have the proper authority to dispose of the corpse.
David Lawson, owner of David B. Lawson Mortuary, says he picked up the body of 37-year-old Linda Walton last Monday after receiving a call from Carrboro police.
Lawson said Walton's body had been found in an apartment after it had been decomposing for nine days.
Because police initially couldn't locate a next of kin, Lawson did nothing.
When police finally had a friend of Walton's contact Lawson, Lawson said the friend refused to do anything, saying she couldn't afford a funeral.
"We were all trying to find someone who could claim kin," Lawson said. "You are supposed to get authorization to embalm, but she was badly decomposed, so I used only embalming powder."
Due to the advanced level of decomposition making it impossible for him to perform an embalming, Lawson said he was forced to send the body to a facility in Greensboro for freezing.
Lawson also said he couldn't cremate the body since he didn't have the proper authority and didn't want to bury the body for fear someone might think he was trying to hide something.
The facility in Greensboro returned the body on Wednesday, citing the foul odor and inability to freeze the body due to the amount of time that had passed since the death, Lawson said.
Faced with no other option, Lawson said he put the body in a hearse parked behind his funeral home's property.
"Where was I going to put it?" Lawson asked. "I took it out of here because it had an odor."
The body was discovered on Friday after a man mowing in the area smelled the foul odor and called police.
Police in Graham dispute Lawson's account, saying he picked up the body on August 11.
That means it had been inside the hearse for a total of nine days.
"I saw flies coming out the window. I don't want to get into a contest with him, but I know what I saw. He has to live with himself," said Doug Yarbrough, the man who found Walton's body. "I don't think anybody should be treated that way. I feel sorry for the woman not having any family, but I don't think she should be treated that way."
Lawson said police did help him gain the proper license from authorities in Orange County to cremate the body, which he did.
"No, it's not right, but what other options do you have?" Lawson said. "Would you have wanted me to bring it to your house? Or do you think I should have taken it back to the apartment I got it from? Do you think they would have accepted it back at the Carrboro Police Department? So I'm left holding the bag."
Lawson has been a licensed funeral director for more than 30 years and is part of a rotation of funeral homes used by police.
The funeral service's disciplinary committee meets next week to discuss the case, but so far no charges have been filed.
"I have the most respect for the deceased person," Lawson said. "That's the last thing I wanted to do, but I had nothing else to do."