Updated 9/24/15 – A Suffolk Superior Court judge sentenced O’Donnell this week to three to five years in prison as well as five years of probation for improperly disposing of 12 bodies and operating a funeral business without a license.
O’Donnell, 57, pled guilty to the charges and was sentenced on Sept. 23. During sentencing, he apologized for his misdeeds. “Desperation led me to make terrible decisions. I never wanted any of this happen,” he said.
Authorities suspect O’Donnell handled 201 funerals between the year his license expired and 2013, the source reported. He also passed off unknown cremated remains to families, assuring them they were the remains of their loved one.
10/9/14 – The Suffolk County, Mass., district attorney has levied a 278-count indictment against former funeral director Joseph V. O’Donnell in the case involving the 12 decomposed bodies and 77 sets of cremains discovered this summer inside units at two Massachusetts self-storage facilities.
The charges allege O’Donnell stole approximately $150,000 in funeral prepayments and held more than 200 funerals while working without a license. Formal charges include acting as a funeral director without a license, embezzlement, falsifying official documents, improper disposal of human remains, forgery and larceny, according to a report published by the “StarTribune.”
Prosecutors said O'Donnell continued to operate as a funeral director until the foreclosure of his funeral home last year despite his license expiring in 2009. Earlier news reports said his license expired in 2008.
In total, investigators found 12 decomposed bodies and 32 sets of cremated remains in July in a storage unit O’Donnell rented in Weymouth, Mass. They also found 45 sets of cremains in a storage unit he rented in Somerville, Mass. Earlier reports omitted the number of cremains found in the Weymouth unit. Investigators believe the cremains found in Somerville went unclaimed by families, according to the source.
Of the 12 bodies discovered, 11 have been identified. Each died while O’Donnell was operating illegally, according to prosecutors, who are still trying to identify the 12th body, an adult woman. Families of eight of the deceased were allegedly given cremains of other people, according to the source. Prosecutors apparently recovered six sets of those ashes, but two other sets had already been scattered.
O'Donnell is due in court this week for an administrative hearing on his original larceny case, in which he is accused of stealing $12,000 from a client. His arraignment on the new charges hasn't been scheduled, according to the source.
8/7/14 – Pathologists have used X-rays, medical and dental records to identify 11 of the 12 bodies discovered last month inside a Weymouth, Mass., self-storage unit. They also have determined that the cremated remains of more than 40 people found in a unit in Somerville, Mass., date back decades, according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.
Successfully identifying all of the deceased individuals and alerting families is a “time-intensive project,” Wark told the source. The families of the 11 identified bodies have been notified, he said.
The age of some of the cremains may prohibit investigators from including them in future criminal charges brought against suspect Joseph V. O’Donnell, according to Wark.
O’Donnell, a former mortician whose funeral-director license expired in 2008, rented both storage units, according to news sources. He remains in custody on $10,000 bail stemming from an unrelated larceny case.
7/21/14 – Human remains were recently discovered inside units at two Massachusetts self-storage facilities. Twelve bodies were found inside a Public Storage unit in Weymouth, and the cremated remains of 40 people were being kept in a unit at an unidentified Somerville storage property. The units were being rented by Joseph V. O’Donnell, whose funeral-director license expired in 2008, according to the source.
O’Donnell, 55, was already being held on $10,000 bail in a larceny case when investigators discovered the remains last week. He allegedly stole $12,000 from a client, the source reported.
Authorities do not suspect foul play, and investigators are trying to identify the remains, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley. “Our top priority right now is determining the identity of the remains we’ve discovered,” he said. “We’ve seized records and documents that could help us locate those people’s families, but this will be a time- and labor-intensive task.”
The bodies found in Weymouth were being sent to the chief medical examiner, according to the source.
No charges have been brought against O’Donnell in relation to the human remains, but the district attorney’s office is pursuing the discovery as a criminal investigation, the source reported.