It was a mystery that quickly grabbed national headlines and then just as quickly faded away – leaving plenty of unanswered questions. Four months later state police are still questioning how one man got away with a gruesome crime in his Riverdale garage.
It was a crisp September night when the 911 call went out.
“911. What is your emergency?” said the 911 dispatcher.
“I was looking for something in my garage and it looks like it may be a body in my garage,” the female caller said.
Police discovered not one, but four dead bodies, human ashes and a bag of organs inside the suburban Chicago garage. Headstones were scattered nearby. The gruesome discovery quickly gained national attention, but once the media and police moved on, one thing remained: families with unanswered questions.
“I can’t believe another human being would do these types of things to someone’s loved one,” said Pompey Hicks III. “It makes no sense.”
The person at the center of this case can’t answer our questions because he died last year. Anton Godfrey passed himself off as a funeral director, he did things on the cheap dealt in cash, and preyed on families desperate to bury their loved ones.
“He came over and picked up my father and hauled him off in a Hearst-like thing,” said Pompey Hicks III. “ He said he was going to take him to the crematorium.”
Weeks passed. And then months. Hicks III never received his father’s cremains. And four years later, he’s still waiting.
“I worked with him on doing the paperwork, but I don’t necessarily know what went on behind the scenes,” said licensed funeral director Vanessa Robinson.
Robinson and Godfrey were disciplined by the state in 2011 for improperly filing death certificates. But there’s more to the story. Turns out, Godfrey was not a licensed funeral director and never had been.
And the state knew this. A year later Godfrey was given a cease and desist order and fined $10,000. The state never collected the money, though, or turned Godfrey over to law enforcement. In fact, NBC 5 Investigates discovered over the last seven years the state cited 25 people for passing themselves off as funeral directors. Yet none were ever referred to law enforcement.
“I think there’s enough regulation and rules,” said Gerald Sullivan, President Cremation Society of Illinois. “I think it’s perhaps the enforcement of those rules where we lack some issues.”
With no enforcement, Godfrey continued. We discovered he handled more than 30 bodies over the years, renting space from various funeral homes.
“He rented my preparation room,” said Isadore James, owner of James Funeral Home.
Isadore James allowed Godfrey to work out of his funeral home for several years. But he eventually kicked him out, because Godfrey did not have a business license. James assumed Godfrey would simply find another funeral home. But it appears Godfrey may have found another place to embalm bodies.
NBC 5 Investigates gained exclusive access to his garage. Hidden deep inside the cluttered room with medical supplies, gurneys and funeral tape, we found an embalming machine and a book on how to embalm. Nearby, an empty container of formaldehyde.
Investigators eventually identified three of the four bodies in Godfrey’s garage. Pompey Hicks' father was not among them.
“I have no idea what this guy has done to my father,” said Pompey Hicks III. “I don’t know. I don’t want to know.”
Investigators tell us their case is ongoing. The Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation declined our repeated requests to sit down and explain how someone like Anton Godfrey could for years pass himself off as a funeral director.