FORT WORTH — Authorities have issued seven warrants for Dondre Johnson of the Johnson Family Mortuary following the arrest of his wife Friday.
Rachel Hardy Johnson was taken into custody at her home. Mrs. Johnson was charged with seven counts of abuse of corpse.
Authorities made the arrest after eight bodies were found unattended Tuesday inside the Johnson Family Mortuary.
According to Sgt. Raymond Bush, Rachel Johnson was taken to a Fort Worth city jail early Friday. Authorities said the charges came after they determined the remains were treated in an offensive manner.
"A case like this is a little more complicated than other arrests we make on a day-to-day basis," Bush said, explaining why it took several days after the discovery of the corpses to make an arrest. "To my knowledge, we haven't had a case exactly like this for almost 10 years."
Abuse of a corpse is a Class A misdemeanor. It’s punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $4,000 fine.
While authorities identified six of the bodies, they were still working to determine the identities of the remaining two, including two stillborn infants.
The list of identified bodies include:
- Deborah Whitney, 48
- Chewe Mwangilwa, 42
- Patricia Baptiste, 90
- Victoria Vasquez, 53
- Helen Washington Jones, 70
- Karen Pearl Jones, 60
Family members expressed outrage after news of the discovery came out earlier in the week. The owner of the building where the Johnson Family Mortuary operates alerted police after he entered the business and found the bodies. According to the landlord, he told staff to vacate the building about two weeks prior to the date he made the discovery.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office removed the bodies from the business, which didn't have refrigerated storage. The bodies were found in "varying stages of decomposition, some quite advanced," said Raymond Bush, a spokesman with Fort Worth police.
Dondre Johnson, one of two twin brothers who run the funeral home according to the business' Facebook page, called it a misunderstanding.
"I've been in business 25 years and I'll continue to serve the community," he said Tuesday.
Mr. Johnson also claimed to be opening another location in the future.
However, the license for the business was set to expire at the end of July. Due to previous previous problems with the Texas Funeral Service Commission, Mr. Johnson was no longer allowed to hold a license. Previous to Tuesday's, discovery, the commission had shut down another of his funeral homes.
The current license was placed in the name of Mrs. Johnson, Dondre's wife. According to state records, she served as the manager of the home.
The 35-year-old woman didn’t have a thing to say Friday as police walked her in handcuffs into the Fort Worth jail.
She had plenty to say just 48 hours earlier, as Johnson tried apologizing to the Vasquez family for leaving their loved one, Victoria’s, body alone inside this funeral home instead of cremating her, as promised.
“We are not neglecting any of those bodies,” Johnson said. “Yes there may be things we’re doing inappropriately... I give my sincere apologies. This was not done maliciously.”
Lupe Mata, Victoria Vasquez's sister, said they held a service for her in June. The family said the funeral home smelled and Vasquez didn't appear right.
News of Johnson’s arrest shook Mata to her core.
“My knees just bent, I just wanted to drop to the floor,” she said.
Yvonne Stewart had the same reaction. “I was like, 'Thank god! Thank god!' Y'know?”
Police found Stewart’s great-aunt, Helen Jones, decomposing inside the Johnson Family Mortuary Tuesday, too. Stewart said her great-aunt was still wearing her funeral outfit from April.
The Johnson brothers were set to be part of a reality show on Lifetime. However, Elizabeth Vasquez, a granddaughter of Victoria, said the pair "don't deserve 15 minutes of fame; they deserve 15 minutes of shame."
The mortuary has long been on the state’s radar. As recently as December, documents reveal the state ordered the mortuary to cease and desist because they didn’t have a funeral director.
Rachel Johnson’s bond was set at $10,500. According to state records, she also lost her provisional license to operate a mortuary Wednesday for failing to have a licensed funeral director in charge.
Hours after Mrs. Johnson's arrest, there was still no sign of her husband Dondre, even at his Arlington home.
Police hope Mr. Johnson will surrender soon. The families of his alleged victims have a message for him.
“Why are you running?” Yvonne Stewart asked. “Why are you avoiding facing reality? You know, you said you had a reality show coming. So here’s reality. Step in and take your place.”