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Refusing Service

Posted by Steven Palmer on July 2, 2013

 “I never really thought it would get this kind of attention. Bad people get buried all the time, and this is what we do.”

–Peter Stefan

            You enter any business and you are likely to see a sign somewhere displayed: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

  Can you? Your state laws are very explicit on this matter. The Federal Civil Rights Act guarantees all people the right to “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

  How would you justify refusal of service? Peter Stefan, of Graham, Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Home of Worcester, MA unflinchingly accepted the care of the remains of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

  If that name escapes you, Tamerlan, and his brother Dzhokhar, placed two pressure cooker bombs at the finishing line of the Boston Marathon. The bomb explosions killed three and injured over four hundred. Many of the wounded suffered amputations, brain injuries, hearing loss and other life altering injuries as they gathered to observe one of our country’s most cherished and oldest events.

  Several days later, when the brothers were identified, they went on a bullet flying, bomb exploding escape. The older brother Tamerlan took a stand against police and was shot. His younger brother, in the confusion, backed over him, escaped and was caught several days later.

  Tamerlan lay in the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s office while his birth family (not his wife, a Muslim covert), sought to get him buried. His parents remained in their home country of Chechnya, leaving the duty to an uncle.

  Life became difficult for Stefan as he accepted this call. Protestors had their presence in front of his funeral home. I can only imagine what else he endured.

  Stefan sought burial for Tsarnaev as quickly as possible in the Muslim tradition. Cambridge cemeteries and city officials gave him no hope. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s office told the media that Stefan should not bother calling. Finally, the Al Barakh Muslim Cemetery in Doswell, VA agreed to provide a grave for Tsarnaev. Tamerlan’s uncle was listed on the death certificate as the responsible party and drove his nephew’s remains to the cemetery in a rental van. Stefan was disappointed that none of the funeral directors associations publically supported him. “This would have been their moment to shine.”

  The Boston Globe, in an editorial, stated “Stefan upheld the decency of the commonwealth.” They concluded their editorial with: “It is a mark of a civilized people to treat dead bodies, even outcast adversaries, with dignity. At a time when others succumbed to hysteria, Stefan held firm.”

  In our nation’s history, how were some of the other heinous killers handled at their death?

  John Wilkes Booth, on April 14, 1865, entered the booth at Ford’s Theater and fired a .50 caliber bullet into the brain of President Abraham Lincoln, who died the next day. Booth fled into the Virginia countryside. On April 26, he was surrounded in a barn in Port Royal VA. He was shot and died. He was sewn up in a horse blanket and transported up the Potomac River. An autopsy was performed on the monitor Montauk. He was transported to the Old Penitentiary on the Washington Arsenal Grounds, now in an Army blanket. Later he was exhumed, re-examined at the Harvey and Marr’s Funeral Parlor in Washington and released to the Booth family for burial in Maryland.

  Leon Czolgosz, a name only hardcore historians would recognize, shot President William McKinley on September 6, 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, NY. Czogosz was an avowed socialist and anarchist. As McKinley greeted visitors; Czogosz slapped away his hand and fired a .32 caliber Iver Johnson “safety automatic” revolver into the president. McKinley died eight days later of infection.

  After his trial, Czolgosz was sentenced to death. On October 29, 1901, he was electrocuted by three jolts of 1800 volts. When he was pronounced dead, his brother Waldek asked for custody of his body, but was refused. An autopsy was conducted and burial followed in the prison grounds. They had originally planned to use quicklime, but were not satisfied it would completely dissolve his remains. The warden gave permission to pour sulphuric acid into his casket. They claimed the deterioration of his remains occurred within 12 hours. His clothes and letters were burned.

  Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged killer of President John F. Kennedy, was shot in the basement of the Dallas police station by Jack Ruby on November 24, 1963. He was pronounced dead a short time later at Parkland Hospital where his alleged victim, President Kennedy died.

  Upon his death he was released to Miller’s Funeral Home in Tarrant County; arrangements made by his brother Robert Oswald. Robert Oswald purchased a #31 Pine Bluff casket through funeral director Paul Groody. Lee Harvey Oswald was buried at Rose Hill Memorial Park in Fort Worth.

  On October 4, 1981, Oswald was exhumed to end speculation that it was a Russian spy look alike that was actually buried. The tests performed concluded it was Oswald. The original casket was badly deteriorated and was replaced with another casket and vault and reburied. The original casket was held by Baumgardner Funeral Home, successor to Millers, as alleged in a lawsuit filed by Robert Oswald. The deteriorated casket was on auction and sold for $87,468 to an unknown buyer.

  Timothy McVeigh, who detonated a truck filled with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, on April 19, 1995, was calm on the day of his execution. This Army veteran of the Gulf War killed 168 people (19 of which were children) and injured 450 others. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh died by lethal injection. Immediately after he was pronounced dead, he was removed to a disclosed location for cremation, reportedly in Terre Haute. The disposition of his cremains is also unknown. It was reported that portions of his cremains were scattered over several of his favorite areas and the remainder to his parents.

  How will you respond when you are asked to serve such an individual?

  I personally look at it as a matter of judgment. That ultimate decision is made by another, one much higher than me. A family has a need, I have a service to provide that need; unless they will not pay or are belligerent, I will provide that service. That is what we do.

  “I run a business, and I’ve stepped up to the plate to do the right thing. Let’s just get this over with, and move on.”

-Peter Stefan



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