After Carlotta Campbell died of head and neck cancer on November 27, 2009 (the day that she and her husband, Mike, would have celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary), Mike and the couple's daughter, Olivia Booher, met with Ronald Marts, proprietor of Marts Memorial Services, a storefront funeral home in Westport. They arranged for Carlotta's remains to be cremated.
The family, which isn't religious, wanted only the kind of simple cremation that Marts specializes in. According to Missouri Division of Professional Registration records, he has been a licensed funeral director since 1976. What Campbell and Booher requested, Marts had done thousands of times. Campbell selected an urn and paid Marts for the cremation.
The family held a service at Unity Temple on the Plaza November 30, three blocks from the Starbucks where Carlotta had worked as a barista. Campbell likes to tell people that his late wife befriended everybody, from the shoeshines next door to the president of Country Club Bank. The family didn't have the ashes that day, but Booher says that was fine — they didn't need the remains to mourn. Marts told the family that Carlotta's ashes would be ready for pickup on December 1, Campbell says. Then Marts told the family that the ashes would be available on December 2. Then December 3. Finally, after complaining to Marts about the delay, Campbell picked up a box on December 4.
For more than a year, these remains sat in Campbell's living room, tucked snugly into one of Carlotta's favorite pieces of pottery, a round navy-blue jar with a soaring bat, wings spread, molded into the side.
But now the ashes no longer reside in the pottery, and Campbell doesn't know what to do with them. He says (and cremation documents support) that Marts gave him a stranger's remains.
Booher, a social worker, says she learned through her job about Marts and his reputation for simple cremation. "I hadn't heard anything about anyone complaining," she says. "I had no reason to suspect that he wasn't on the up and up."
And for almost three and a half decades, Marts appears to have done nothing to cause concern. The business he started in 2002 built a reputation for catering to Kansas City's poorest citizens by promising dignified, bargain-priced cremations and funerals.
Starting in May 2009, however, the Missouri Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors made a string of disturbing discoveries during inspections of Marts Memorial Services. Board reports say Marts' professional sins ranged from shoddy administrative practices, including not keeping a log of the bodies that went in and out of his business, to grisly storage problems.
But rather than correct his violations, board inspectors say, he cut more corners. In December 2010, the board revoked Marts' license and told him to cease doing business by the end of the year.
Some passages from the disciplinary order portray a badly mismanaged business. "On May 18, 2010," one section begins, "there were four dead human bodies in the refrigerated room at Marts Memorial, and the room's temperature was 50 degrees, according to Marts' thermostat in the room. The cooler room lacked the capacity to reach the required temperature of 40 degrees."
In the spring of 2010, the order states, Marts was found not to be keeping a log of the bodies in his possession, and he failed to provide clients with written statements of goods and services. The order also says Marts kept a body in his funeral home without refrigerating, embalming or placing it in a hermetically sealed casket within 24 hours of death. These violations were confined to Marts' work space, hidden away from his mourning customers. In August 2010, however, Marts gave another grieving man the ashes of a stranger, passing them off as the remains of the man's wife.