(Photo: John Partipilo)
A Murfreesboro funeral home named in a federal lawsuit for allegedly abusing the bodies of deceased immigrants has settled with the victim’s family.
On April 6, Nelson and Sons Memorial Chapel settled with the family of Freddy Aroldo Cristotomo, who died in October 2019. Nelson was one of five funeral homes named by multiple families in a federal lawsuit for allowing a rogue ex-funeral director to use their facilities to store, and later abandon, more than a dozen bodies of immigrants living in Tennessee.
The federal lawsuit against the other defendants is still pending and includes Saddler Funeral Home in Nashville, Gardner Memorial Chapel in Knoxville, Anderson Funeral Home in Nashville and Reid Van Ness.
Van Ness was a well-known figure in the Middle Tennessee Hispanic community for offering grieving families funeral services and transportation of the deceased back to their country of origin for their final resting place.
A Tennessee Lookout investigation found that numerous bodies that Van Ness promised to send overseas for burial in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala were instead left in coolers at three Middle Tennessee funeral homes in 2019 and 2020, for periods ranging from two months to as long as 11 months.
In 2020, Nelson and Sons became part of an investigation by state officials into the activities of Van Ness, who was accused by a Guatemalan family of failing to deliver the body of their deceased relative.
According to a lawsuit filed in December 2020, Cristotomo died while protecting a woman and child from assault. His family then contacted Van Ness for embalming services and transportation of Cristotomo’s body to relatives in Guatemala.
The family paid Van Ness $4,000 and waited. Four months later, the deceased had yet to arrive. Van Ness gave conflicting information and false shipping information to the family.
By March 2020, relatives had contacted an attorney for help in finding Cristotomo’s body. Nelson and Sons was investigated as part of an inquiry into the numerous funeral homes used by Van Ness to store the bodies of deceased immigrants.
The initial state investigation found 15 bodies between Nelson and Sons and Saddler Funeral Home in different stages of decay, including two children.
Cristotomo’s remains were shipped to his family in Guatemala City in March 2020, nearly five months after his death.
Van Ness has since relinquished his funeral director and embalming licenses, but has continued to offer funeral services to the immigrant community, the Tennessee Lookout found.
He was most recently reported taking a deceased immigrant to a funeral home in Kentucky without the family’s knowledge. As a result, several families have since joined the initial federal lawsuit against Van Ness and the funeral homes.
Three funeral homes, including Anderson Funeral home, have settled separately with the state to avoid formal charges.
Cristotomo’s family settled with Nelson and Sons for an undisclosed amount. Nelson and Sons has since been dropped from the federal lawsuit.
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