Murder victim's family says body was held ransom by funeral home

 Linda Hitesman, sister of the suspected murder victim speaks to Channel 2 (2019)
Linda Hitesman, sister of the suspected murder victim speaks to Channel 2 (2019) (KTUU)
Published: Sep. 17, 2019 at 4:21 PM AKDT
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The murder of a son and brother was hard enough for the family of Julian "Eddie" Myers to deal with. Then came the long fight for his body. All they wanted was to bury the father of three in a final act of closure. But nearly nine months after Myers' death, the funeral home selected by Myers' sons still has the corpse.

Myers' mother and sisters say the conduct of Janssen Funeral Homes has been holding Myers' body hostage while the family struggles with the heavy emotional and financial toll of an unexpected death.

Myers - an iron worker and father of three grown boys - died on Christmas Eve, killed by his middle son, Mark Myers, according to prosecutors.

The criminal investigation delayed the settling of the estate and payment by the iron workers’ union. The money those would bring in would go to the funeral costs, the family said. But without it they can’t pay upfront for services from the funeral home.

The women told KTUU Janssen Funeral Homes is demanding payment upfront before they release the body.

"They knew there was a policy from the iron workers union to pay for the funeral but they were demanding cash payment," said Dianne Myers, the mother of the deceased.

"I knew that that didn't sound right, aside from being morally wrong, it also sounded like it would be legally wrong," said Sharon Aubrey, the victim’s sister.

With that suspicion, Aubrey did some research. She found Alaska has a law that prohibits detaining a corpse for a debt, and discovered a code regulating a mortician's license which states they cannot delay the return of a body for burial over money.

"It is not acceptable for them to hold a body six months or eight months without burying it waiting for payment while they continue to rack up the bill," said Aubrey.

By August the bill had climbed to more than $17,000.

It included things like cosmetology, something the family has stated they were firmly against, since Myers, who thought make up should only be worn by women, would have disliked.

“No make up, no make up,” said Dianne Myers, “We really stressed that.”

“He had makeup caked so bad it looked worse than any Tammy Faye Baker picture I've ever seen,” said Linda Hitesman, another sister of the victim.

The family was also charged for items the state was supposed to pay - like transporting the remains and restoration of the body after injury or autopsy.

On top of it all, the Myers family was stunned to discover that while the home refused to release the body, it was also charging the family $200 a week for storage.

Things got so bad Janssen’s even threatened to dispose of the body if the family didn’t pay by a specified date, Dianne Myers, Eddie's mother, told KTUU.

Scott Janssen, the funeral home's owner, denies any such convestation.

He told KTUU during a brief phone call that his staff would never make such a threat, that his staff "had not made mistakes” and that "it's the worst thing in the world if a family is not happy about anything we do."

Citing the family's privacy, Janssen declined to do an interview.

In late August, Janssen's dropped the bill to a little more than $11,000 - if it got paid within two weeks.

Then, on Sept. 16, after KTUU started asking questions, they dropped the bill to $3,500 and agreed to release the body without payment up-front, according to the family.

Now, just as they did in winter, in spring, in summer -- the Myers family is looking for closure.

“He's in a better place, but putting his body in the ground will be the final goodbye, and it will give us peace of mind and the boys have to have that,” said Dianne Myers.

Myers' funeral is scheduled to take place Friday.

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