Philadelphia Police are investigating dozens of boxes of cremated remains left inside a shuttered Black-owned funeral home in North Philadelphia.
Police searched the former Baker Funeral Home, at 2008 N. Broad St., on Friday afternoon and found 48 boxes containing cremated remains, a police spokesman said. Police were able to enter through a rear garage door.
The investigation began after The Philadelphia Tribune received a tip from two self-described “urban explorers” who had trespassed in the building in March and photographed the boxes on a desk.
The “urban explorers,” who asked not to be named because what they do is considered a crime, shared the photos with The Tribune. The photos show more than three dozen boxes — some in plastic bags. Many have “Cremation Certificate” labels with people’s names on them. Many of the labels include the name Ivy Hill Cemetery, which is in Northwest Philadelphia, and some have dates as far back as 2000.
In two photos, a plastic bag of what appears to be cremated remains rests beside a small black box, all of which is positioned in front of stacks of dozens of other boxes.
One of the “urban explorers” who found the remains said the funeral home has become “very popular” in their circles in recent months, attracting people who want to take photos inside. The sources both said they contacted The Tribune because they wanted to prevent the remains from being taken.
“People are going in there every day,” said one source. “So eventually it’s going to get ransacked and people are going to steal ... and destroy the place.”
Ellen Lyon, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania’s Department of State, which oversees funeral homes, declined to comment on specific complaints in an email.
“However, speaking generally, we encourage people to report information like this to local law enforcement,” Lyon said. “When we receive information about practices or conditions that violate professional licensing standards, it is passed on to our prosecution division.”
What happened to the funeral home?
The exact date of Baker Funeral Home’s closure could not be confirmed. Funeral home owners are not required to inform the state office when they shut down.
Third-generation owner Vince Baker was ordered by a judge to shutter the business in September 2017, after the U.S. Department of Justice successfully prosecuted him for failing to pay $813,000 in federal taxes, penalties and interest to the Internal Revenue Service over two decades.
The U.S. Department of Justice first filed suit against Baker in 2011. As the lawsuit proceedings dragged on for years, Baker continued to “thumb his nose at the Court” by using funds from the funeral home’s bank account to pay for entertainment, fine dining, nearly $2,000 in clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue, and a Philadelphia 76ers basketball camp, according to court documents filed in 2017.
Baker also failed to file his federal tax returns during the lawsuit proceedings, according to court documents.
The federal judge barred Baker from performing any funeral or cremation services or engaging in the funeral services business for five years, among other things. The case was closed this year.
Last year, the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors suspended Baker’s funeral licenses for a year and placed him on probation for holding funeral services with expired licenses, according to the state’s online licensing verification system. (The board previously found Baker had conducted funeral services numerous times over the decades with lapsed licenses.)
Baker has not reapplied for reinstatement of his license, according to a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of State.
Baker sold the property to a limited liability company, 2000 North Broad LLC, in 2016 for $1 million, according to the city’s real estate transfer data website.
The property was sold again on Jan. 1, 2018, for $1 to 2008 N Broad LLC, according to the city’s Department of Public Property website. The market value is $490,500.
The most recent owners listed with the LLC were Ahmed Alhadad of Ambler Borough; and Abbas Zeini and Halal Mahdi, both of Metairie, Louisiana.
On Oct. 2, the city granted the building owners a zoning adjustment to demolish the structure and construct a six-story building with 40 residential units and commercial space, according to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment’s website.
The owners declined to comment through their attorney, Adam Laver.
An unattended mortuary
The two-story building is located between a pizzeria and a vacant lot in the heart of Temple University’s campus.
The glass-plated front door of the building, which faces North Broad Street, is cracked. Inside, unopened mail could be seen strewn throughout the front lobby. A surveillance camera was positioned above the main entrance.
The rear of the building, which extends to North Carlisle Street, has two garage doors. A surveillance camera affixed to the building’s rear brick facade appeared broken. When a reporter visited the site, one of the garage doors was left open wide enough for someone to gain access.
On Thursday, residents living along North Carlisle Street said they’ve had no issues with the former mortuary.
“As far as any suspicious activity, no,” said resident Sabra Jennings, North Carlisle Street’s block captain.
Jennings, who has lived on the block for more than three decades, said the building’s garage door had been open wide for someone to slip through over the summer. But the door has since been fixed.
Chris Pisano, 20, said he lived in the row house connected to the former funeral home along North Carlisle Street for several years while he attended Temple University. He said he recently saw someone, whom he believed to be the owner of the building, enter the garage and remove furniture.
“I’ve seen somebody on their knees looking in [the garage],” Pisano said, “but I’ve never seen somebody actually rip it open and go in there.”