2012
02.08

In February 2001, Robert Crawford passed away after a long battle with cancer. His family mourned the loss, as all of us must do when a loved one dies. But one year later, February 15, 2002, that painful experience became an unbelievable nightmare when the Crawford family found out they hadn’t been given Robert’s cremated remains and his body (along with hundreds of others) had likely been abandoned at Tri-State Crematory.

Robert’s sister Teri, a nurse and military reservist, did more than mourn for the way her brother was treated – she quit her civilian job and volunteered to help with recovery in Noble. For a while she coordinated DNA collection from families hoping to identify relatives, but was pushed out after voicing concern about the way county and state leaders were running the recovery operation and subsequent investigation. In 2010 she wrote a book about her experience titled “Legal Deception.”

Like all family members connected to crematory victims, Crawford has nothing nice to say about Tri-State operator Brent Marsh. She also doesn’t mince words blaming Brent’s parents, Clara and Ray – wealthy, well-connected crematory founders/owners – for the Noble nightmare. And unlike the mainstream media, Teri Crawford doesn’t hesitate in blaming local officials for their own roles in covering up the disaster and keeping victim families from getting justice.

The overall theme of “Legal Deception” is shared culpability. Everyone from Brent Marsh (the only one actually convicted of doing anything wrong) with his parents and sister, Sheriff Steve Wilson, former GA Representative Mike Snow, and dozens of funeral homes that did business with Tri-State are shown to have roles in the disaster’s origins.

Crawford repeatedly shows how Sheriff Wilson bent over backwards before – and after – the discovery to protect the Marshes from prosecution. It’s no secret that a Blossman Propane driver told Wilson of problems at Tri-State in 2000 and 2001. Crawford adds that the ultimate discovery of bodies at Tri-State wasn’t made by an anonymous neighbor walking their dog (the “official” story), but by EPA and FBI agents the Blossman driver notified after being ignored by the high Sheriff for two years. “Legal Deception” also slams Wilson for his preferential treatment of the older Marshes and his sworn testimony that Ray and Clara Marsh knew nothing of what was happening in their own yard even though relatives told him otherwise.

The book’s sharpest jabs are made against Georgia Medical Examiner Kris Sperry and Walker County Coroner DeWayne Wilson, who both interfered with recovery and identification of remains. DeWayne Wilson particularly had reason to limit the number of corpses found and named because he owned four local funeral homes liable for sending them to Brent Marsh in the first place. His role in investigating the crime was a conflict of interest – and at points he kept independent examiners from accessing evidence. (Wilson, who still serves as Walker County Coroner, later became famous for attempts to railroad Chickamauga teacher Tonya Craft.)

Crawford blames Sperry for helping Wilson block identification of bodies (less than 200 of the 339 recovered were positively ID’d), for giving poor courtroom testimony that bolstered the Marsh defense, and for shutting her out of the case. She also says the Medical Examiner intentionally kept her brother’s body from being identified because she was (in his words) “too aggressive” with him.

Even Walker Commissioner Bebe Heiskell and Coordinator David Ashburn take heat in the book. Ashburn gets some credit for helping Crawford keep a role in recovery after the state fired her, but she says Ashburn interfered with media coverage and Heiskell (who praised Clara Marsh’s community service) pushed to shut the site down once fed and state governments refused to reimburse the county for its $5 million-per-week recovery costs. (She probably saved Walker Co from going bankrupt, but in the process denied justice to hundreds of potential victims’ families.) According to Teri Crawford, the final body county of 339 was set on February 27 – 12 days after the first body was found, and less than one day after FEMA denied requests for financial help.

    “Clara has done a lot of community work. She represents the poor on several boards. She is very, very outstanding.” -Bebe Heiskell

The most compelling and heart-wrenching sections of “Legal Deception” detail how officials in charge intentionally kept recovery workers from finding or identifying bodies from before 1996, and how there are still likely hundreds of unrecovered corpses. Per the book, a dozen pits suspected of containing more human remains were located at Tri-State but only one was ever dug up, and the rest were just probed. More pits or “debris piles” were spotted from the air on another 70-acre property owned by the Marshes, but investigators never pursued them even though David Ashburn and Kris Sperry said (pre-FEMA denial) they warranted further checks.

Crawford quotes M.E. Sperry initially saying some corpses at the site dated back more than twenty years – a time frame that would have seen some 1,725 bodies sent to Tri-State. He later changed his estimate to 350 bodies since 1996, a near-perfect fit for the official total found, even though records cited in the book show nearly 700 were sent there between 1997 and 2002, and almost 1,000 after 1995. But finding those additional bodies would have added tens of millions of dollars to the costs of recovery, identification, and prosecution – not to mention additional liability for the older Marshes and the funeral homes. It’s probable (and the book says certain) that well over 339 bodies were left unburned.

“Legal Deception” is no legal thriller. The book is uneven in tone, with some compelling moments in the first third, followed by chapters of boring courtroom testimony and notes of interest to few outside the legal profession. (The final chapter is reserved for describing unidentified bodies in hopes of adding more names to the list of known victims.) Legal aspects of the Tri-State case could make a compelling story, but Crawford’s presentation of them – especially the court transcripts – are a chore to read.

Most who encounter this book will probably end up skimming over its conclusion, but in doing so they’ll miss some interesting information and comments about the way attorneys on both sides of the criminal and civil cases colluded to do minimal damage to the Marshes. Crawford also reveals how a paperwork mistake left Georgia Farm Bureau responsible for judgments against Tri-State Crematory, which made the insurance company eager to settle out of court. The $5.8 million settlement netted millions for civil suit lawyers and even earned $100,000 for everyone in the Marsh family – but left victim families without answers, justice, or peace.

Public officials spotlighted in “Legal Deception” have dismissed the book as untrue and its author as nuts or motivated by grief and anger. Crawford has also been shunned by many victim families because of her role in the investigation and recovery. As she admits in the book, a lawyer she trusted as a friend took advantage of her and gained information helpful to the defense. Her criticism of law enforcement officials also may have contributed to weakening the prosecution’s case against the Marshes. Some family members (who met her while she served as their advocate during recovery) have been upset about details Crawford shared, and dismissed her book because they don’t want to deal with the possibility of more unrecovered bodies in Noble.

But Teri Crawford seems to have no motive outside of sharing the truth as she sees it and venting her frustration with the whole incident. Crawford paid for the publication of “Legal Deception” out of pocket and told us last fall she hasn’t sold enough copies to pay off the printing costs. The decision to write and publish this book has provided Crawford with no financial or social benefit outside of having a clear conscience for doing what she felt was right.

Unfortunately Crawford isn’t a professional author, and didn’t bring in a ghostwriter or pro editor to help polish up the book. Her jumbled use of quotes in the courtroom sections make the text difficult to follow and don’t help its believability; likewise it sometimes goes in circles by presenting the same facts or events multiple times. A good professional editing to help with clarity and redundancy would have made a big difference for “Legal Deception” – but it’s still a book well worth reading.

Many will have trouble with the book because of its photos. Perhaps unwisely, Ms. Crawford chose to include a section of black-and-white non-identifying photos showing clothing, debris, body parts, and buildings from the crime scene. The worst, by far, is a color photo of a putrefied skull on the book’s cover. (LU made an editorial decision to blur it above, but some pages linked from this post include the original.) “Legal Deception” isn’t exactly a coffee table book, and not the kind of thing you can leave out where kids might see it. Crawford’s mission to spread the true story of Tri-State Crematory might have been better served by not including unnecessary photos that will keep some from being able to read it. (Photos are included in the printed and e-book editions.)

More disgusting than the photos, even more disgusting than the gruesome details of what happened at Tri-State Crematory, is the stomach-turning behavior of elected officials chosen to “protect and serve” the rest of us. They placed personal connections, old friendships, pride, politics, and money ahead of justice or truth for the 339-plus innocent people whose bodies were desecrated over a period of years in Noble. But only one of those elected leaders (ex-Rep. Mike Snow) has faced voter wrath. The rest have retained their positions and popular support, despite their disgusting roles in the Noble disaster and mishandled response.

Next Wednesday, February 15th, is the tenth anniversary of that grisly discovery. Some have forgotten what happened, others never really knew because so much was covered up or misrepresented. Tri-State Crematory is a horrible, horrible scar on the history of Walker County, but knowledge of what happened there is vital to anyone who votes, lives, shops, or works in the area. Every adult in Walker County should buy or borrow a copy “Legal Deception” so they can better understand, and never forget, what happened ten years ago in tiny Noble, Georgia.

BOOK AVAILABLE AT

  

Digital copies of “Legal Deception” can be downloaded for Nook, Kindle, and iBooks. A free preview of the first two chapters is available through all those sources. Paper copies of the book can be ordered from LegalDeception.com. Copies of the book can also be found in the LaFayette, Summerville, and Trion public libraries.

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15 comments so far

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  1. LaFayette library’s sole copy of “Legal Deception” (donated by the author because the local library won’t buy self-published books) will probably be checked out into perpetuity now, so you’ll probably need to head down to Trion and borrow theirs. Every library has classified the book under Dewey 344, which is the section for legal issues. It’s crammed between books about wills, divorce, litigation, and consumer protection. It ought to be in the Georgia Room with local history and genealogy, or 904 (history / collected accounts of events). They were at least nice enough not to call it “fiction” as so many elected leaders would probably prefer.

    I want to challenge everyone who plans to vote for Steve Wilson in July to download the free preview for Nook, Kindle, or iBooks and read chapter 2. If you can still support him after reading that then you’re heartless, mindless, or both. Free Kindle and Nook software is available for download on PC, Mac, Android, and iPad/iPhone so there’s no cost involved with reading the first few chapters of the book.

    We will be doing more on Tri-State as the anniversary approaches, so be sure to check back here next week. We’ll be looking at the lack of a memorial and where the people involved are today. If you’re related to a Tri-State victim, we’d like to hear from you and ask a few questions – e-mail us at lu@cityoflafayettega.com

    - LU

  2. BULLS—T!!

    Did she put in the story where she lied about having any relatives that were possible victims in the case to get the job? Did she put in there the fact that she became romantically involved with one of the GEMA employees? Did she put in the book anything about using her new “relationship” with the GEMA representative to get him to help her illegally tap into the GBI computers at the Joint Operations Center?

    While being paid to coordinate the DNA collecting, she was using state computers and materials to illegally obtain the information that GBI was collecting and entering into a database to help them sort through all of the data. I am sure that she doesn’t mention any of that in her book. She even ended up marrying the GEMA guy and then dumping him after he was no longer any use to her.

    She wanted money! Plain and simple. She saw an opportunity, quit her regular job and tried to make some money and failed. She not only lost her lawsuit(s) and appeal, she had to pay her lawyers out of her own pocket. She was so sure that she was going to win and the defendant would have to pay her lawyers, that she never saw any chance that she would actually lose money. The conclusion of the appellate court transcript states:

    “Teri Crawford has set forth numerous issues in this appeal. However, our conclusion
    that she did not have standing to bring the present lawsuit necessarily renders all of the other various issues moot except one, which is her claim that the Trial Court erred when it taxed costs to the plaintiffs. Although the plaintiffs certainly are not the “bad actors” in this case and we fully understand their frustration, we simply cannot conclude that the Trial Court abused its discretion when it taxed costs to the unsuccessful parties.

    VI. Conclusion
    The judgment of the Trial Court is affirmed and this cause is remanded to the Trial
    Court for collection of the costs below. Costs on appeal are taxed to the Appellant, Teri Crawford, and her surety, if any.”

    This is the sole reason that she wrote a book, in hopes that it would be a best seller and that she would finally get the money that she wanted so bad. She only has hearsay and speculation to back her up on any of this. The fact that your comment states that people should not vote for Steve Wilson because of what this money hungry psycho woman wrote in her book is insane. I could write a book about Kristopher Marks being a Communist and make up enough about it to make anyone who didn’t know him think it was true. It, of course, isn’t true but to actually tell the public that they should base their decision on whether or not to vote for Steve based on this book, is again insane.

    If this works in your apparent scheme to get Steve out of office, then I’ll write a book about how everyone in LaFayette should send me $100 and maybe they will believe it and I will get rich.

  3. Ms. Crawford mentioned GEMA, had only positive things to say about the state agency but noted that its hands were tied by the local authorities and Kris Sperry. She did obtain GBI information, including a list of identified victims, but her list was taken as evidence and she says she no longer has a copy or an way to make a list of all the identified bodies. You accuse her of “illegally tapping” computers to get information, and then imply later she made everything up – why would she have collected that information if she wasn’t going to use it? Either she broke the law to get the info, or she made the info up – you can’t say she stole the information and then made the information up.

    Her lawsuit was dismissed because the court decided (according to Crawford so take it however you want) only surviving spouses had grounds for legal action. Siblings (like her), parents, and children were blocked from filing suit against the Marshes or funeral homes. She also lives in Tennessee – plaintiffs from TN faced more legal roadblocks than the ones living in Georgia.

    The remainder of what you say, including the lawsuit she lost, doesn’t make the book untrue. Steve Wilson’s actions fit in with the public record of what happened, as do the actions of the other Wilson, DeWayne. Kris Sperry also had an inappropriate relationship with an investigator (as you say Teri did) and he pled the 5th in court multiple times to protect himself from disciplinary action over it.

    The statements from Marsh relatives, the Blossman driver, Bebe Heiskell, and Steve Wilson are all verified from news reports and court transcripts, Crawford didn’t just make them up whole-cloth. The dates for FEMA rejection of reimbursement requests is public record, so is the date they decided to stop searching. The only aspects of this book that aren’t in public record are some of the private exchanges Ms. Crawford had with individuals and the part about additional pits being found but not dug up – which fits with what many others have observed or suspected.

    If Steve Wilson, Bebe Heiskell, David Ashburn, and the prosecutors wanted the real truth to come out about this they should have fought to have the case go through court and have Marsh appear before a grand jury, not let it be settled behind closed doors with a wink and a nod.

    If any more books about Tri-State come out, even ones that disagree with “Legal Deception” we’ll mention them here and do a full review. So far this is all we’ve seen, and the only argument against it (the same one you’ve made) is to call Teri Crawford crazy and motivated by money or anger. Nobody (including you) has ever addressed the specific claims of the book, nobody has done anything to prove them untrue or present evidence showing it false.

    – LU

  4. You do realize the book is science fiction, right?

  5. You do realize the attorneys were the first ones to purchase this book. I can only say until you stand up against the GBI and the attorneys in our flawed judicial system you don’t know what the heck you are talking about.

    Kim, you must of had your head buried in the sand to say I lied about having a relative in the Tri-State case. My brother suffocated to death from a tumor in his throat and his body was sent to Tri-State by a Chattanooga Funeral Home. You must not of had a family member involved because if you did you would not say such hurtful things. We were all devastated by having our loved ones treated in such a horrendous manner. The other comments you made are slanderous and I don’t take them lightly.

  6. I also had a cousin that was found there and lived in rock springs for a long time if any one believes the justice system and political systems are honest they just need to read the papers and transcript on this case it was handled wrong on so many levels, and any one who did not have someone from their family or love one that was found there could not comprehend the heartache that was felt. I am glad she wrote the book and hope more eyes will be opened so this never ever happens again any where. these people got away with one of the most horrible crime in north ga. and it should never happen again.and no it is not science fiction wished it was.

  7. So if it is not science fiction then it is completely factual 100%? Be careful how you answwer.

  8. Derrin, we’re still waiting on you to point out something specific that isn’t correct. So far you’re just making blanket statements and fishing. When you can bring up a specific point and make an argument for it being wrong we’ll engage you.

    – LU

  9. My point is there is no argument here if the book is science fiction. No engaging necessary.

  10. It appears someone has gotten hold of their mother’s laptop…

  11. It’s science fiction because derrin said so. There’s your proof. No need to discuss.

    By the way, science fiction is “a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities.

  12. Here’s a brief story on Channel 9 about “Legal Deception” from several years ago. Not much to it, but here you go: http://www.newschannel9.com/articles/book-994655-claims-tri.html
    – LU

  13. Whatever flaws the author of this book has or the book itself may have (and none of us are perfect) that doesn’t make the author a liar or motivated by greed. I imagine the writing of the book was cathartic and I wish her peace and success. This book is an effort to tell the public the truth about a horrific event that will never be over if there are pits of bodies left unexamined. Imagine this people: We Walker County citizens live near a carnage house and nobody seems to care except the surviving family members and a few others. There seems to be something rotten under every upturned stone in this county.

  14. If there is any question that what she has stated is true…why not demand to have the marsh property searched to see if there are more corpse? For it would give these families peace just to get real closure on this issue.. If the insurance companies are liable so be it…

  15. Who has the legal authority to demand it? The District Attorney settled the case, the civil case was settled, and local law enforcement leaders know they’d be shown as fools if another corpse was found. It’s in the best political interest of anyone with authority to keep whatever remains out there (literally) buried.

    – LU