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October 23, 2014

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Officials: Unlicensed Boston mortician had remains of 50

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Michael Dwyer/AP

Storage units at the facility where human remains linked to a Boston funeral director were found are seen in Weymouth, Mass., Friday, July 18, 2014. Authorities found 12 sets of human remains at the facility rented by Joseph O’Donnell on Thursday. O’Donnell’s funeral director’s license lapsed in 2008.

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Joseph O'Donnell

BOSTON — An unlicensed funeral director accused of stealing more than $12,000 from an elderly couple could face more charges after authorities found 12 bodies and the cremated remains of more than 40 others in two self-storage units he rented, authorities said Friday.

Joseph O'Donnell, 55, of Boston, was being held on $10,000 bail in a larceny case when investigators found the cremated remains Wednesday at a Somerville self-storage business. On Thursday, they found 12 sets of human remains at a similar business in Weymouth.

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said no foul play was suspected and investigators were working to identify the remains.

Conley's spokesman, Jake Wark, said no charges had been sought against O'Donnell in the discovery of the human remains, but authorities were conducting a criminal investigation. O'Donnell's funeral director's license lapsed in 2008.

His attorney, Paul Tomasetti, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A message was left at his office.

O'Donnell was charged with larceny in April. Authorities said he took more than $12,000 in prepayments from an elderly couple to cover two future funerals. Later, when the couple asked to apply one payment to another family member who had died, they learned that O'Donnell's funeral home had closed and O'Donnell was unable to return their money, investigators said.

Wark said the mere possession of cremated remains was not a crime. "But the presence of so many does give us some concern, given his alleged behavior in connection with the theft of funeral payments," he said.

The discovery of the bodies in Weymouth, Wark said, is "a much more serious set of circumstances."

O'Donnell had a previously scheduled pretrial hearing in the larceny case Friday. He waived his appearance, and the case was continued until Aug. 29.

April Hopkins, a Randolph woman who said she paid O'Donnell thousands of dollars to cremate her son, mother and granddaughter in 2011 and 2012, said she was angry when she heard about the cremated remains found in Somerville. She said she was unsure now whether the cremated remains she had in her house were those of her loved ones.

Hopkins went Friday to Dorchester Municipal Court to try to get more information about the remains found in the storage facilities.

"I'm devastated. I am very upset because I really put a lot of trust in this man," Hopkins said. "Is one of those bodies my mom? Is one of the bodies my son? Who's to say?"

Dahria Williams-Fernandes, a Boston funeral home director and member of the state Division of Professional Licensure's Board of Funeral Services and Embalming, said it's a violation of professional regulations to put bodies in self-storage units.

"It's clear-cut," she said. "There's no way we'd ever be placing an individual in a storage unit for any period of time. They should never be out of our possession."

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