Cremated bodies left behind at abandoned funeral home
An unlicensed Hazelwood undertaker who skipped town two years ago left behind unpaid debts, frustrated next of kin and, authorities discovered on Friday, cremated bodies and animal remains.
Pittsburgh police and investigators with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Officer removed 19 containers of cremated human remains and 30 animal remains from the abandoned Sauvageot Funeral Home on Hazelwood Avenue.
The director, Mark V. Sauvageot, lost his license because a state inspector found a woman's remains in the early stages of decomposition in his garage in 2009. Shortly after that, he moved out, according to other funeral directors in the neighborhood.
"There was a big moving van in front of the house in the afternoon and evening, and in the morning he was gone along with it," said David O'Connor, of John D. O'Connor & Son Funeral Home on Second Avenue, who hasn't seen Sauvageot since. "Nothing is being done to him for what he's done to these poor people."
Police said Sauvageot was not at the funeral home when they searched it. A man told police on Thursday that he never received his mother's cremated remains from Sauvageot, prompting the search. Seventeen of the 19 human remains were identified, a medical examiner's spokesman said. The office plans to release the identities of the deceased next week.
"I'm glad there's closure for these families now," said John Bauer, director of nearby Herman Funeral Home.
Sauvageot could not be reached. Court and Pennsylvania Department of State records show that he failed to appear at numerous hearings since 2009.
State regulators suspended his license in January 2009 and fined him $3,000 when they learned he refused to release remains to a family in an effort to extract payment, records show.
It was a familiar story to Patricia Fox, 68, of the North Side.
Fox sued Sauvageot in 2008 to try to get back about $2,000 he made her pay to return her son's body. Fox's son died in a hospice and she saw a flier for Sauvageot's funeral home, so she said he could take the body. That was until she visited the home and saw the sign out front for pet cremation and the bags of cremated remains scattered about inside.
"I said, 'Oh no, we're taking him out of here,' " Fox said. "I didn't want to have my son cremated there because I didn't know what I would get back. Especially after I went in there and saw how messy it was."
Sauvageot never appeared before the magistrate for Fox's lawsuit. Nor did he pay the $3,000 fine he owes the state, records show.
Sauvageot bought the funeral home a little more than 20 years ago, and it just "slowly went downhill," O'Connor said.
After his license was suspended, Sauvageot tried to bury the body of Helen Miller at Homewood Cemetery in April 2009, but the cemetery refused because Sauvageot did not have a signed death certificate, according to State Department records connected to the revocation of his license.
The body was returned to his funeral home, where a state investigator found it in June 2009. The investigator also reported finding fleas, animal feces, bags of trash and three coffins in the garage of the home. Sauvageot "began to cry" and admitted he had Miller's body in one of the coffins and said the other two contained the remains of his dogs, the record states.
"This affects everybody in the business," O'Connor said. "We've had some good funeral directors in Hazelwood, and this just makes you wonder about everybody."
Since Sauvageot left, Herman Funeral Home has received calls from anxious relatives and pet owners trying to track down remains. The home has worked to provide funeral services for families that pre-arranged with Sauvageot, he said.
"We had a lot of people coming that were very despondent," Bauer said. "They would show up at the front door very emotional. He literally just left town. We were the bearers of bad news."