Reports indicate authorities first received a tip in April 2001 and another in November.
“This information was made available to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation early on,” Walker Sheriff Steve Wilson said. “We didn’t have any obligation to tell the media about this.”
According to news reports, propane delivery driver Gerald Cook, told his boss, who then told the Sheriff’s Department, in April 2001 of bodies in various stages of decomposition at Tri-State.
The Sheriff’s Department also received a complaint, which also stemmed from Cook, in November 2001.
In mid-February this year, the Environmental Protection Agency was notified about mishandling of bodies at the crematory. Uncremated remains were discovered by EPA investigators on the same day as the third report.
To date, investigators said 339 sets of remains have been discovered at the crematory.
Wilson on Friday denied allegations he was negligent in investigating the reports.
“I’ve done my job very up-front and to the best of my ability,” Wilson said.
“I think people are angry,” Wilson said. “They are hurt by what all happened at Tri-State, and they are looking to point fingers at people and have someone responsible for the Tri-State Crematory incident. My heart goes out to those families who had loved ones sent to Tri-State.”
Georgia Emergency Management Agency director Gary McConnell recently informed Wilson of his nomination by his peers in the Georgia Sheriff’s Association to receive the Governor’s Public Safety Award.
“I think Steve Wilson has done, and is continuing to do, an outstanding job in Walker County,” McConnell said. “He is the fourth sheriff that I have worked with in Walker County and is a professional law enforcement officer. He has conducted himself with the utmost dignity and has represented Walker County very well. He has done everything in his power and authority, in my opinion, to apprehend and prosecute the guilty parties in the Walker County crematory case.”
Angry family member responds to news
Meanwhile, some angry family members believe Sheriff Wilson did not respond aggressively enough to the early reports that bodies were being mishandled at Tri-State Crematory.
“If something had been done 10 months ago, that would have saved 66 families from being in the situation they are in now,” Leatha Shropshire said.
According to news reports, 66 bodies were sent to Tri-State to be cremated between the first report in April 2001 and the final report in February this year.
Shropshire’s late mother was supposed to be cremated on Jan. 30, 2002, just weeks before investigators discovered the first corpses at Tri-State.
Shropshire also alleges Wilson was trying to protect the Marsh family.
“My family suspected that there had been a coverup right from the very beginning,” Shropshire said. “They (authorities) really do look bad. Everybody that knew about it should be held accountable for not doing anything.”
In a Feb. 19 Walker County Messenger article published days after the grisly discovery at in Noble, Shropshire said, “We’ve got to have some kind of answers. We want to know why nobody checked into that place.”
“The hardest thing to believe is that you sent your loved ones to a place where you thought they were going to take care of them, and then found out what happened — nothing is a shock after that — because that is hardest thing in the world to find out.”
Shropshire said she is thankful to Cook for insisting on getting Wilson’s attention.
“I think that Gerald Cook — who first discovered the remains at the crematory — is my hero because he is only one that had the guts to step forward and tell what he saw,” she said. “I appreciate him very much.”
Thomas looks to oust Sheriff Wilson
Noble Truth Committee founder Rock Thomas on Saturday issued a news release questioning Wilson’s procedures and calling for his resignation.
“If it was left up to Sheriff Wilson, Brent Marsh would still be free and bodies would still be piling up,” Thomas said. “I intend to research the feasibility of a recall campaign and other actions as well.”
“I believe he (Wilson) has been negligent in his duties as sheriff,” he said. “He has not looked after the public interest, and it appears that he has kept some information from the district attorney, and in the light of this, he should resign.”
Thomas contends political ties through the Democratic Party, which Marsh’s mother, Clara, used to chair, played a role in an alleged coverup. Wilson denies this allegation.
“That’s totally untrue,” Wilson said. “We all know that the Marsh family was involved in a lot of civic activities in the county, and during that time our paths crossed at lot, but we were not close friends.”
Clara Marsh in no way helped Wilson during his campaign for sheriff, he said.
State explains recall process
According to “The Conduct of Elections” published by Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox’s office, a public official may be recalled if “the official has, while holding office, conducted himself or herself in a manner which relates to and adversely affects the administration of his or her office and adversely affects the rights and interests of the public.”
The document also states the official must either have committed an act or acts of malfeasance while in office; violated the oath of office; committed an act of misconduct in office; or failed to perform duties prescribed by law or willfully misused, converted or misappropriated, without authority, public property or public funds entrusted to or associated with the elective office to which the official has been elected or appointed.
A two-step petition process — in which constituents apply for an application to circulate a recall petition, and after successful application, circulate the petition — is necessary to initiate a recall election
“There must be a maximum of 100 sponsors for the application or a number equal to at least 10 percent of the number of electors who were eligible to vote for the office at the last election, whichever number is smaller,” the document states, after which the application is submitted to the county elections superintendent for signature verification.
After following the proper procedures, the elections superintendent must issue a recall election, according to the document. If the majority of the voters choose to oust the official, then a special election to fill the vacancy is scheduled