Parents sue funeral homes for stillborn remains in container

2022-06-20 21:36:57 By : Ms. Sina Liu

The Detroit parents of a stillborn child are suing Ascension St. John, accusing the hospital of losing the child’s remains, which were ultimately found in a Tupperware-like container that was being used as a paperweight in the Cantrell Funeral Home.

The lawsuit was filed in the wake of recent news that a string of Detroit funeral homes have mishandled the remains of fetuses and stillborn babies in their care. 

"It’s just really, really — they’re all sad — but this one especially is just disturbing, and I don’t use that word lightly," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Bill Colovos.

On Jan. 30, 2014, Erika and Christopher Hinson's son, Baby Ellis, was stillborn at Ascension St. John in Detroit. Over the next three months, the lawsuit alleges, Erika Hinson contacted the hospital continuously in order to have Baby Ellis' remains buried.

Since Baby Ellis was stillborn, Michigan law would require the filing of a fetal death report. Ascension St. John filed a death certificate.

But months went by before the Hinsons heard anything. Instead, the hospital "made excuses" for where the remains were, Colovos said, and in April informed the Hinsons that Baby Ellis' remains had recently been located after being misplaced in a Tupperware-like container. That fact alone was "devastating," the lawsuit reads.

It's not clear where Ascension St. John kept the remains for that time period, Colovos said. The hospital had not yet reviewed the lawsuit when contacted by the Free Press and declined to comment immediately.

Now that they knew where the remains were, the lawsuit says, the Hinsons made funeral arrangements with Cantrell, which the suit alleges was then operated in some capacity by Annetta Cantrell. She is named as a defendant alongside her stepson,  Raymond Cantrell II.

The Hinsons are low-income and couldn't pay the full bill to have a proper burial, said Colovos. Both were working in Detroit at the time. Cantrell had an agreement with the Hinsons that they would keep the remains until the couple could afford to pay for it, Colovos said, but were never told that they could receive aid from the state for a funeral, nor that failing to dispose of the remains was illegal.

"I don’t know if that’s the reason they thought they could violate the law for beyond six months of having a final disposition of the body," Colovos said.

Cantrell Funeral Home on Mack Avenue was started decades ago by the late Raymond Cantrell I. Annetta Cantrell, his widow, now operates the Q.A. Cantrell funeral home in Eastpointe.

According to state filings from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, Annetta Cantrell has held various positions at the Mack Avenue home over the years. In 2010, she was listed as president.

Annetta Cantrell's lawyer said he was defending criminal charges against his client and had not yet seen the lawsuit. Cantrell Funeral Home's lawyer could not be immediately reached for comment.

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State investigators raided Cantrell on Mack in April 2018 following inspections that found bodies left in an unrefrigerated garage and other "deplorable" conditions. When investigators came back in August, they found a stillborn corpse "in a box" on a table, according to a timeline from the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Colovos says those remains are Baby Ellis', and the "box" was a Tupperware-like plastic container with a lipped lid. A spokesperson for LARA said he could only refer the Free Press back to the original timeline.

"It was right on the desk, they used it, sad to say, as a paperweight," Colovos said. "I hate to say that. But this is what we’re dealing with."

The Hinsons were informed of the remains in early September, and were able to finally bury Baby Ellis with the help of Brian Joseph, the owner of Verheyden Funeral Homes of Grosse Pointe Park, who has been working with people whose loved ones were found at Cantrell.

As the Hinsons heard the recent funeral home news, they've been reliving the nightmare from four years ago. Finally getting to lay Baby Ellis to rest with Verheyden's help has provided some consolation.

"It was really nice to see some humanity in today's world," Colovos said.

If you think your loved one's remains could be at Cantrell, see the full list here or contact 313-821-9040 or e-mail To speak with a Free Press reporter, email