Family Buries Body Found in Garage, Confronts Funeral Director

Grieving family members confronted a funeral home director Wednesday after they buried a man whose body was found in a Philadelphia garage.

Leon Nelson, 89, was laid to rest in Bala Cynwyd Wednesday afternoon. The bodies of Nelson and two other people were found decomposing inside a garage along the 2600 block of W. Hagert Street Tuesday morning. Nelson’s family told NBC10 they thought he had been buried two weeks ago.

“My mother is watching the news and we get contacted that my grandfather was the one in the garage,” said Ed Nelson, Leon Nelson's grandson.

Family Photo
Leon Nelson

Police say Leon Nelson’s body was in a casket while the two other bodies were in cardboard boxes. The garage was owned by Janet Powell and the Powell Funeral Home, located nearby on the 2400 block of N. 27th Street. The family claims the nursing home where Leon Nelson had stayed chose Powell to handle the burial.

“This wasn’t us that chose this funeral home,” Ed Nelson said. “We offered the lady money. She said no. We asked how much would the funeral cost. She said the funeral was already paid for by the nursing home.”

Detectives say the three bodies had been taken from the Price Funeral home in West Philadelphia Monday and stored in the garage. An official with the Price Funeral home said they had stepped in to help the Powell Funeral Home.

“He should have been in a refrigerator or something,” said Leon Nelson’s granddaughter Crystal Nelson. “We could’ve gotten the money up ourselves if that’s what she needed.”

Ed Nelson confronted Powell when she attended his grandfather's burial Wednesday.

“I’m just trying to get some understanding,” he told her. “You’re saying to me that my mother knew that her father was in a garage. There’s no way that I would’ve allowed that to happen!”

“I will not discuss it any further because you’re skipping a point,” Powell replied. “I’m not lying!”

As Ed Nelson called for his mother, Powell told him she had to go and left the cemetery as cameras rolled.

Powell spoke to NBC10 by phone Wednesday night and answered more questions about the controversy. Powell claimed the bodies were stored in the garage for six hours at the most and that two of those bodies were cremated while Leon Nelson's was ready for burial. Powell said the bodies were left in the garage temporarily out of convenience so that they could be picked up at one spot.

Powell said the decomposition of one of the bodies was related to the health condition of the person prior to death and that it was not the result of neglect.

Residents told NBC10 the Powell Funeral Home has been closed for about a year. A sign at the funeral home says it's under reconstruction, but instructed people to call for services or information. Windows at the funeral home are missing and headstones are buried under weeds, according to police.

Powell told police Tuesday she was aware bodies were inside the garage. State records show Powell’s license to be a funeral director is valid through next year. However, the license her business needs to operate expired in 2012.

NBC10 dug up records Wednesday showing civil actions against the funeral home which date back to the 1980’s. The Powell Funeral Home also owes more than $17,000 in back taxes, according to Philadelphia’s revenue department website. The IRS and Pennsylvania Department of Revenue both placed liens on the property for unpaid taxes.

Powell refused to speak about the documents but said there is “a lot of misinformation out there.”

After the bodies were discovered, Darian Austin, whose mother died last Spring, came forward, claiming Powell never repaid a promised $8,000 deposit.

"How she explained it to me as to why she didn't give me my money back was because she had several property damages to her funeral home last year during the winter and she used our money to fix our damages," Austin said.

Powell responded to Austin's allegations calling it a "business dispute" that would be handled by her attorney.

Family members of another person found in the garage said their loved one died at the Cliveden Nursing & Rehab Facility in Philadelphia. NBC10 visited the facility Wednesday where we spoke with John Fredericks of Mid-Atlantic Health Care.

“Without knowing the details you’re hitting me cold with this,” he said. “This is brand new information to us. We need to do our investigation and obviously will do so. It’s extremely disappointing and concerning to us. But once again until we gather the facts we really don’t have much more to say at this point.”

No one has been charged in the case but police continue to investigate. Nelson’s family told NBC10 they have contacted an attorney.

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