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Ex-Funeral Director Surrenders on Charges He Left Bodies to Decay Near His Children’s Toys

Brian M. Barnett appears in a Johnstown, N.Y. police department mugshot.

Brian M. Barnett appears in a Johnstown, N.Y. police department mugshot.

A former upstate New York funeral director turned himself in to local authorities Monday night on myriad charges connected to his alleged business practices. The accusations involve charges that the funeral director left decaying bodies around his children’s toys in a facility which included both his personal residence and the funeral home he was operating.

The home is ironically next door to the county office building and county court house in Johnstown, Fulton County, about an hour west-northwest of Albany.

According to the Johnstown Police Department, Brian M. Barnett, 35, is charged with three counts of concealing a human corpse (a Class E felony); one count of fourth-degree grand larceny (a Class E felony); one count of third-degree grand larceny (a Class D felony); three counts of failing to bury a body within a reasonable amount of time (an unclassified misdemeanor); two counts of endangering the welfare of a child (a Class A misdemeanor); one count of operating an unlicensed funeral home (another unclassified misdemeanor); and four counts of operating as a funeral director without a valid license (yet another unclassified misdemeanor).

Law&Crime previously reported in depth about Barnett’s multifaceted legal woes. They include a sprawling criminal probe into the workings of his funeral home, administrative actions by state licensing authorities, and a civil lawsuit against his business.

The Johnstown Police Department in late January said Barnett had been allegedly keeping dead human bodies in “advanced states of decomposition” in his business and its detached garage.  According to the police, at least some of those decaying “bodies . . . were left around with children’s toys in areas where the children [who] were in the residence had access” and presumably played — thus creating a “health risk” to the children. The Albany, N.Y. Times-Union said the children were Barnett’s.

Johnstown Police Chief David Gilbo said that though charges were imminent in late January, Barnett was not immediately taken into custody because the would-be and since-arrested defendant was at an area hospital —  St. Mary’s Hospital and Healthcare Network in nearby Amsterdam, N.Y. — for an “evaluation.” Gilbo did not elaborate on the purpose of that “evaluation” other than to confirm his department had “certain concerns” about whether Barnett was “unfit” or “unwell.”

The criminal case unfolded after concerned customers couldn’t reach Barnett and eventually contacted the police, Gilbo said earlier in the investigation. Back on Jan. 6 a city police officer pulled Barnett over and discovered that he was driving around with “a box or a casket in the back of the vehicle.”  Gilbo said a subsequent probe revealed that some of Barnett’s records indicated some bodies had been cremated — and they really weren’t.

The totality of the circumstances resulted in a search warrant being sought and obtained for Barnett’s downtown Johnstown facility. Inside, police found “human remains” that “were not stored in a temperature controlled location and were not cared for in any manner,” Gilbo said in the earlier press release. “Detectives also noted signs of advanced decomposition, due to the improper handling and storage,” the chief continued.

Additional remains were discovered in the funeral home’s garage.

Dozens of families have reportedly “come forward to raise questions about the handling of dead relatives’ remains,” the Albany, N.Y. Times-Union reported.

Another nearby funeral home and the office of the Fulton County Coroner are attempting to sort Barnett’s records and ensure that all of the discovered remains are properly catalogued, handled, and documented.

Gilbo said last month that the only apparent motive was Barnett’s “need for money.” The chief later clarified that he was unsure if the motive was “greed” or “need.”

Before the criminal probe began to unravel, the New York State Department of Health on Nov. 30, 2021, suspended Barnett’s license “for operating an unregistered firm,” the DOH told Law&Crime in a January email. State agency documents also obtained by Law&Crime indicate, however, that problems had been ongoing at the Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home — the name of Barnett’s facility.  A stipulation document says Barnett had been operating an unregistered funeral firm for 140 days from July 1, 2019 through November 18, 2019, and again from July 1, 2021 until Oct. 2, 2021 — the date of the stipulation.

City of Gloversville judge Traci DiMezza handled Barnett’s arraignment because two City of Johnstown judges recused themselves from hearing the matter, likely due to the prominence of the funeral home in the small upstate county where it is situated.

Barnett was released from custody and was scheduled to report back to court on Feb. 15.

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.