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The mysterious disappearance and mutilation of corpses in morgues in Haiti

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Popular beliefs speak of assassinations and exchanges for money. Mortuary employees and a forensic doctor invite nuance

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Solemnly, Mimose Vil approached the coffin, adorned with flowers in varied tones, placed on the catafalque of the Baptist Church of Fermathe on February 1, 2020.

Vil meticulously scrutinized the funeral veil that covered the head of the deceased to make a shocking discovery: the lifeless body slumped in the velvet bier – for whom the grieving audience turned out – was not her grandmother, Simone Ermilus, who died a week before, the lady told AyiboPost.

Incidents of this kind add to the bad reputation of morgues in Haiti. Families like Vil say they receive the cadavers of strangers. Others report receiving strangely mutilated cadavers, after having deposited corpses in perfect condition for conservation.

Incidents of this kind add to the bad reputation of morgues in Haiti.

These facts, although rare, fuel beliefs suggesting that morgue employees murder unconscious individuals, or exchange corpses in good condition for money.

Simone Ermilus’ relatives, realizing that her body had been swapped for another, suspended the funeral proceedings.

They pushed the coffin out of the church, put it in a transport vehicle and returned to the funeral parlor in order to get to the bottom of the situation.

The funeral home’s lawyer attempted to resolve the matter by offering the family money to suppress the affair, according to the family. “We categorically refused,” Vil tells AyiboPost.

After inspecting the register of burials organized by the funeral company and a funeral leaflet illustrated with the image of their grandmother, Simone Ermilus’ relatives realized that their grandmother had already been buried for thirteen days.

Families like Vil say they receive the bodies of strangers. Others report receiving strangely mutilated cadavers, after having deposited corpses in perfect condition for conservation.

Three days after the aborted burial, Simone Ermilus was dug up to be returned to her family.

“Other than her eyes, which had fallen out of their sockets, she had not deteriorated very much,” remarks Mimose Vil, reporting that a modest commemoration was organized to bury the remains a second time.

Read also : La mort coûte très cher en Haïti

A similar case was recorded in the commune of Verrettes in May 2012, at Madeleine Jeanty’s funeral in the commune’s Church of God.

Family members and other relatives were on hand at the mauve-and-black-decorated temple for the burial, when the only daughter of the deceased, who arrived in tears, insisted on looking at the corpse: it was not her mother.

The families and loved ones of the deceased went to the funeral home. After very heated discussions, the morgue officials allowed them to carry out a search among the other corpses housed on the premises.

These facts, although rare, fuel beliefs which suggest that morgue workers murder unconscious individuals, or exchange undamaged corpses for money.

Around two o’clock in the afternoon, Madeleine Jeanty’s family found her corpse piled under other lifeless bodies in the morgue, according to Cardo Gérard Dimanche, a relative of the family present that day to attend the funeral ceremony of the deceased.

Jeanty’s burial in a family cellar resumed with a much reduced audience at the end of the same day, according to Dimanche.

Each family has its own theory to explain these incidents.

For Mimose Vil, her grandmother’s more presentable body was exchanged for a « sickly and unkempt » one, in order to hide from the latter’s sons living abroad that their mother died in deplorable conditions despite the money that the diasporas frequently sent home to care for their mother. AyiboPost was unable to independently verify this theory.

“The other family, who lived not far from us, made arrangements with the funeral company to save face,” insists Vil.

Contacted by AyiboPost, the owner of the eponymous funeral business, Louisimond Paul, located in the metropolitan area, said that this episode occurred almost three years ago and that it was difficult for him to remember the main points of the story.

“We had reached an amicable agreement,” he says dryly, without giving further details.

Each family has its own theory to explain these incidents.

In Madeleine Jeanty’s case, Franscen Duperna — a relative of the deceased — told AyiboPost that family members had a « phobia of corpses, » and did not visit the morgue to check the body before delivery.

“These cases are rife,” maintains Dieulord Charlotin, an undertaker who lends his services to the “Puissant” funeral company in Miragoâne.

Read also : Les fascinants secrets du métier de croque-mort en Haïti

For Dieulord, the primary responsibility lies with the undertakers. “When these situations arise, they often end very abruptly, either in flight, death or prison for the undertakers,” says the professional.

Other, more violent situations take place within the walls of morgues, according to two testimonies collected by AyiboPost.

On September 2, 2017, the Church of Nazarene of Marin en Plaine was to sing the funeral of Gregory Will, a young man who fell into a coma, then died in his hospital bed on August 12 of the same year.

To the surprise of those present, the dead man’s clothes were wrinkled and stained with blood. He had a fracture in his right leg, a hole in the middle of his head, reports his sister on his mother’s side, Tyler de Varrens Michel.

When these situations arise, they often end very abruptly, either in flight, death or prison for the undertakers.

Convinced that the young man was killed in the morgue, the family brought his body back to the funeral home located in Plaine, according to Michel. He spent three months in the morgue until company officials threatened to get rid of him.

The family wanted to file a complaint, but they received “anonymous calls” warning them that they risked “losing another family member” were they to file a complaint, Michel says.

Gregory Will will finally be buried in December 2017.

A similar case recurred a year later at the funeral of Snick Jean-Louis in Port-au-Prince.

The man suffered from inflammation in his feet and heart problems when he was hospitalized in 2018. After his death was declared, he spent two weeks in the morgue.

Read also : 3 à 4 cadavres «sans famille» par jour… des hôpitaux de P-au-P exténués

On the day of the funeral, “the body handed over was completely disfigured. His neck had a hole in it, and his damaged face was bleeding,” says his cousin Jupson Jean-Louis and two people who witnessed the incident.

“He received all of these wounds from the morgue,” insists Jupson Jean-Louis to AyiboPost.

The family called a justice of the peace, who was unable to come to take a statement. The morgue officials « didn’t acknowledge having murdered my cousin, but asked for a negotiation to avoid a scandal for the hospital, » reveals Jean-Louis.

The body handed over was completely disfigured. There was a hole in his neck, and his damaged face was bleeding.

According to the Civil Code of Haiti – Articles 76 to 87 – a qualified professional must carry out the declaration of deaths. No funeral home can receive a corpse without a valid declaration of death.

In reality, families often take it upon themselves to verify deaths and send their loved ones to the morgue without forensic expertise, and often without the advice of a justice of the peace.

There is a persistent belief that some living people sent to the morgue by mistake come back to life when they come into contact with the cold.

Haiti only has one institute of forensic medicine, and this structure finds itself unable to work properly due to a lack of budget and a failing legal framework, the institute’s head, forensic pathologist Jean Armel Demorcy, tells AyiboPost.

“These incidents are very real in the country because there is no state supervision,” analyzes Doctor Demorcy.

There is a persistent belief that some living people sent to the morgue by mistake come back to life when they come into contact with the cold.

It is impossible for a dead person to wake up in the morgue, according to specialists. However, in the event of apparent death, if the person has not received an injection of chemicals, “they may wake up in contact with the cold, depending on the storage conditions of the morgue,” maintains Doctor Demorcy.

Parents are not always right. According to the medical examiner, the institute received two cases in previous years where the family claimed the person was killed at the morgue. However, following an autopsy, it was revealed that the person had already died before being taken to the morgue.

Dieulord Charlotin will soon have been working as a mortician for five years at « Puissant », a funeral company in Chalon. He says he has never witnessed a case where a person entrusted to the company has woken up.

He attributes the injuries observed by certain families to the fact that certain funeral companies are having difficulty preserving the bodies in decent conditions. Corpses are sometimes handled “roughly,” which may explain why some bodies have certain injuries or fractures.

Read also : Des morceaux de glace pour conserver les morts à Jérémie

In addition, a part of the body can begin to decompose if the preservation devices do not function properly, explains Charlotin.

The mistreatment and misplacement of corpses traumatizes certain families, according to testimonies.

Three years following the burial of Simone Ermilus, Mimose Vil speaks of having made the decision to only attend part of the funeral. “I can’t get over the fact that my grandmother didn’t have a funeral worthy of the rank, respect and importance that the family ascribed to her,” Vil said.

By Junior Legrand, Tchika Joachim et Rolph Louis-Jeune

Image de couverture : Georges Harry Rouzier /Ayibopost


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Junior Legrand est journaliste à AyiboPost depuis avril 2023. Il a été rédacteur à Sibelle Haïti, un journal en ligne.

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