MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Problem Solvers are working to hold a troubled Memphis cemetery chain accountable after they promised to make updates to dilapidated conditions we uncovered at their Elvis Presley location and deal with the fallout from a rat infestation at the northeast Memphis location that impacted dead bodies waiting for preparation.
The Problem Solvers first started investigating Forest Hill in January when customer Merdis Pewitt brought the issues at the mausoleum to our attention.
“It makes me feel pretty bad because I’m going to be buried there and I want it to look right,” Pewitt said at the time.
Earlier this year, Forest Hill staff promised the Problem Solvers they’d take action to repair the dilapidated mausoleum and said construction would start on May 10.
Pewitt counted down the days and continued to check back. But she never saw anything change.
“I was discouraged and called you back because I been coming over here but I didn’t see any progress being made,” she said.
When the Problem Solvers checked back in June, we found the same stains, cracked materials and decaying exterior on the mausoleum as well as the same yellow caution tape surrounding the building. The tape dropped and appeared faded.
But in an email from Forest Hill’s corporate owner StoneMor, marketing official Lindsay Granson told me “lots of progress has been made.”
“They haven’t done anything,” Pewitt said pointing to the decay at the mausoleum site.
When we asked the marketing manager to be more specific, she said, “the mausoleum has been scoped and some work has been done.” She added the building needed a specific material currently on backlog.
The Problem Solvers tried to speak with someone local in Memphis, but no one came to the door at the Whitehaven cemetery office. And when we requested interviews with local management, the StoneMor rep based in Pennsylvania repeatedly turned us down.
We asked Pewitt if she thought they need to speak to the Memphis community.
“I think so,” she said.
Another widow had a similar frustrating story dealing with issues at another Forest Hill property.
Gail Mann has a double plot waiting for her and her husband at the Holmes Road location. Her husband died several years ago and was already cremated.
“It’s two plots, two openings, two closings and some kind of a marker,” Mann said.
She saw our story about rats eating dead bodies waiting for preparation at the Whitten Road facility and called the cemetery immediately.
“I want to get rid of these plots and talk about this. ‘I just saw this on television, is this your company?’ It was just a recording, a voice mail. I left a voicemail and never got anything back,” Mann said.
The last time the Problem Solvers tried to speak with someone local at that location, management wouldn’t comment.
“If you’d like to pass your information to me, I can pass it along to someone who can be in touch with you right away,” the manager said at the time.
It all left Mann thinking she wants an answer and her money back, even if it’s just the $662 paid for the plots back in 1964.
“If they don’t have enough people to take care of the bodies they’re trying to handle, I don’t want to give them one more,” Mann said.
After getting no where, both women and many others have called the Problem Solvers. Forest Hill’s marketing official has now asked the Problem Solvers to send her the information of anyone we hear from, saying they’ll “prioritize” those families.
But there are also bigger stakes. Both women think StoneMor should give up ownership of the cemeteries they cannot maintain.
Tennessee regulators have fined Forest Hill nearly ten times in the last two years, most recently $14,000 for the rat infestation. Georgia regulators also fined the company more than $600,000 for issues there related to mismanagement at seven different cemeteries.
“We are doing everything possible and will continue to help every family brought forward,” Granson said.
But these women wonder if that’ll ever be enough to overcome this mountain of issues.
Mann did hear back from StoneMor officials once the Problem Solvers got involved. They recommended she try to sell her plots, but she hasn’t been able to find any buyers. She is still pushing for a refund instead.
If your family was one of those impacted by the rat infestation, contact Stacy at firstname.lastname@example.org.