More than three dozen containers of cremated human remains – including some belonging to the victims of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre – were removed from a former funeral home in Dover on Wednesday.
The 38 small containers of unclaimed “cremains” were initially discovered in the former Minus Funeral Home at 222 N. Queen St. by the building's new owner, according to Kimberly Chandler, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The department's division of forensic science and the Dover Police Department then secured the site and conducted an “exploratory excavation” at the one-story building.
“It's now our goal to make sure the cremains that were located are either returned to the families or to make for final arrangements,” said Chandler, who added that the cremated remains are believe to date from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Chandler said she did not know the identity of the current owner.
The funeral home's former owner, Edward G. Minus Jr., died in June 2012, and the building was sold at a sheriff's sale to Sunningdale Ventures Inc., of Hunt Valley, Md., in June 2014. Records at the Dover Office of Planning and Inspections show the license for the funeral home was renewed in December 2013, but expired in June 2014.
Attempts to contact Sunningdale Ventures and the Minus family before press time were not successful.
Of the 38 containers found, 33 were clearly marked identifying the contents, Chandler said.
Nine of the vessels contained the cremated remains of victims of the Jonestown Massacre, which took place in the South American nation of Guyana on Nov. 18, 1978, when 909 people, mostly including American followers of cult leader Jim Jones, committed mass suicide.
The remains of the victims were later flown to Dover Air Force Base, where they were processed at the Dover Port Mortuary, now the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs, with the assistance of local, contracted funeral directors.
The forensic science division took possession of the cremains when they were removed from the building, Chandler said.
It is not unusual for a funeral home to store a number of cremated remains on their premises, according to Bill Torbert, the owner of Torbert Funeral Chapels in Dover.
While Torbert said he was unfamiliar with the discovery of the cremated remains at the former Minus Funeral Home, he did say funeral homes are required to store such remains until they are claimed by a family member.
“We have remains here from the past where people neglected to come and pick them up or have chosen to have us keep them until a spouse passes away,” he said.
Torbert's father, William C. Torbert, handled a number of the Jonestown victims as a contractor, Torbert said. At that time there was no crematory in Kent County, and the bodies, which had spent several days in the hot South American sun, were cremated for expediency's sake.
In addition to the cremated remains, several bronze gravesite markers for veterans who served from World War II through the Vietnam War also were found, Chandler said. The markers will be presented to family members if they can be located or will be returned to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Officers from the New Castle County Police Department assisted with the excavation work, Chandler said.