CBSN

Undertaker Commits Suicide

Kenneth Stone comforts his wife Myra during a press conference Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001 in Fort Lauderdale. Fla., as they watch a video of alleged indiscrepancies at the Menorah Gardens cemetary in West Palm Beach, Fla. Myra Stone of Lake Worth said her parents bought side-by-side graves in 1982. Her father died in 1994, but another man allegedly was buried next to him in her mother's grave.
AP
The manager of a group of funeral homes owned by a company accused of digging up bodies to make new room for graves has committed suicide, authorities said.

Peter Hartmann, 45, was found dead on Wednesday, slumped inside a running car in the shuttered garage of his parents' Boca Raton home, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said.

Hartmann had left a suicide note but its contents won't be disclosed until the investigation is complete, said Diane Carhart, a sheriff's office spokeswoman.

Hartmann's wife told investigators that her husband had been under "a great deal of stress" over the allegations of grave desecration and had raised the topic of suicide about two days earlier, the sheriff's report said Thursday. But Hartmann had assured his wife that he would not take his own life.

Hartmann managed four funeral homes in Broward and Miami-Dade counties owned by Houston-based Service Corporation International, accused in a lawsuit by family members of digging up the remains of relatives and dumping them in the woods. The suit also accuses the company of crushing burial vaults on top of others to make room for new graves.

Hartmann was a 12-year employee and did not manage any of the funeral homes or cemeteries named in the suit, said Don Mathis, a company spokesman.

"Everybody is just really, really saddened and our hearts go out to the family," Mathis said.

Company officials have denied knowledge of any wrongdoing and said they are investigating.

Ervin A. Gonzalez, a lead attorney for the family members, told NBC 6 in Miami that Hartmann's name was found on documents related to the case.

"Our information reveals that Mr. Hartmann was not the type of person that would have made the decision to hurt thousands of individuals. We believe he was following orders and that unfortunately he was caught in the web of improper practices," Gonzalez said. Gonzalez did not return phone calls from The Associated Press.

The sheriff's report said the cause of death was believed to be carbon monoxide poisoning.

Detective John Carney said the medical examiner was still awaiting the results of toxicology tests.

By KEN THOMAS
©MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed