In 2005, the Allegheny County coroner's office visited the McKeesport garage of Robert B. Winston, Jr. a former funeral director. As soon as they set foot inside the investigators knew they were dealing with death. The odor was awful. And the stacked boxes from which the smell was emanating were clearly labeled as fetal remains.
But it wasn't until the Allegheny County coroner's office opened the boxes that they learned some of the remains were not fetuses. They were actually babies, 19 in all, who had been born and had lived for a short time. Their tiny diapers and caps gave it away.
Following a months-long process of poring over medical records and matching remains with cases at Magee-Womens Hospital, Allegheny County Police criminally charged Robert B. Winston Jr. with theft by deception and 19 counts of abuse of a corpse.
Police alleged that Mr. Winston, the onetime owner of Newman-Winston Memorial Chapel, violated a contract with the Oakland hospital to pick up fetal remains and treat them in a "respectful and dignified manner" by having them cremated.
Instead, police said, Mr. Winston stacked boxes of remains in his garage from 1999 through early 2002. In doing so, Mr. Winston earned roughly $9,000 from Magee.
"From what I can tell, Mr. Winston seemed to have been engaged in sort of a slow, downward spiral, financially, personally, professionally. And I think that basically he got into a situation where he got behind and he was never in a position to catch up. Obviously, he was in a situation where there was a profit margin there. How much of a profit margin, I don't know," Deputy District Attorney Mark Tranquilli said.
The remains were discovered Aug. 26, 2005 in the garage of Mr. Winston's former home in the 1800 block of Evans Avenue.
On that day, Winston's ex-wife, Renee Brooks, asked police to force open the garage door, for which she did not have a key, so she could check work files Winston told her he had left there, according to a police affidavit.
Ms. Brooks contacted police after finding a box with 105 unsigned cremation permits. That discovery made her uneasy, the affidavit said, because she knew that the permits were typically signed by a crematory and copies forwarded to the proper authorities.
Once inside, Ms. Brooks and the McKeesport police officers found the fetal remains. It was later determined that there were 27 cardboard boxes holding hundreds of biohazard containers.
Nineteen of the containers held infant corpses, 179 had remains of fetuses older than 16 weeks, 154 held fetal remains under 16 weeks gestation, and 253 had autopsy remains, the affidavit said.
"According to Winston, he had a contract with Magee-Womens Hospital since the year 1993 and that he would collect fetal remains from the hospital as many as three times a week for a fee and have them cremated on a monthly basis," the affidavit said.
"Winston admitted that he stowed away those fetal remains since he fell on financial hard times in the year 2003, and he stated that he placed the remains in the garage at 1830 Evans Ave. since some time in 2004," according to the affidavit.
Janet Mrzlack, 40, of the South Side, applauded the criminal charges against Mr. Winston. Mrs. Mrzlack had several miscarriages at Magee from 1999 to 2002 and wondered if any of the remains in the garage were her babies. She said she was told by the coroner that because some of the remains were commingled, she might never know.
"I think that's a good thing," Mrs. Mrzlack said of Mr. Winston's arrest. "He deserves what he gets, and I'm glad that he turned himself in. As for closure, that's not going to happen."
Judge Brletic released Mr. Winston who was 61 years old at that time, on a $100,000 unsecured bond and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Allegheny County Jail's behavior clinic.
In March 2004, the state Board of Funeral Directors fined Mr. Winston $3,000 and suspended his license for three years. In 2005 he moved to public housing. Mr. Winston's ex-wife initiated divorce proceedings and finalized their divorce July, 2005. Ms. Brooks had also filed two petitions for protection-from-abuse orders against Mr. Winston in 1999 and 2004.
In 2006, several families sued Magee-Womens Hospital in connection with the handling of deceased babies and fetuses by Mr. Winston.
on Sept. 22, 2008 Robert Winston pleaded no contest to 19 counts of abuse of a corpse and one count of theft, in relation to the remains of deceased newborns and fetuses found stockpiled in his garage in 2005. The prosecutor agreed to a sentence of probation to be set by the judge.
source - Pittsburgh Post Gazette
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