Courts & Crime

Body left in hearse for 9 days in North Carolina summer

A body's journey in the back of a hearse is grim but usually brief.

That was not the case, though, for Linda Walton.

On Friday, nine days after a mortuary service picked up Walton's corpse from an apartment in Carrboro, police were called to investigate a foul odor in downtown Graham, a small Alamance County town about 55 miles west of Raleigh.

Investigators traced the pungent smell to a hearse owned by David B. Lawson Mortuary, the undertaker that picked up Walton's body Aug. 11. Walton, 37, who investigators think died about a week before she was discovered, was still in the back of the undertaker's vehicle.

The gruesome find set off an investigation by police and the Alamance County district attorney's office. Their findings have sparked an inquiry by the N.C. Board of Funeral Service, which is responsible for the administration and regulation of the profession of funeral service in North Carolina.

Police do not suspect foul play in Walton's death. But investigators had not determined whether Lawson, the owner of the mortuary service that had her body, had run afoul of the law.

Lawson, a licensed funeral director and embalmer in North Carolina for 34 years, did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Over the past decade, the state Board of Funeral Service has investigated several complaints against Lawson, but they centered on problems with his failure to turn in timely annual reports about "pre-need contracts" through which people can make arrangements with funeral homes in advance of their deaths.

Lawson was disciplined for his mistakes, according to state board records, and in 2008 surrendered his license that permitted him to enter into pre-need contracts.

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