AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — When Barbara Renee Moore died in May 2018, her daughter, Tara, who had no experience with planning for funerals, was left to make the arrangements.
Moore said she recalled an earlier conversation with a minister named Shawnte Hardin, who she trusted in spite of knowing there were others who raised red flags about his practices. She asked him to take care of her mother’s arrangements.
“I was told to be careful with him because there had been other people that my source knew that had dealt with him that wasn’t pleased, so the thing was because you don’t have a lot of money to work with,” Moore told Nexstar’s WJW.
Moore explains that Hardin made funerals affordable for those who “didn’t have the money or resources.”
“When he comes to you and says you can have the very same thing at half the price, well, if it saves you from having to set up a GoFundMe pages, selling dinners and falling out with family about money they don’t have, it was just more feasible,” she added.
Moore said the service was held at a small church. Immediately afterward, there were concerns.
“No return calls, no messages, no apologies, no nothing,” Moore said.
It took months, but eventually Barbara Moore’s cremated remains were given to her daughters in Akron. The experience tore the family apart.
“Because red flags were going off now, people are second-guessing, questioning, especially the financial end of everything. This has really put a wedge in my family. Some of us are barely speaking so emotionally, financially, just the relationship between family members are not there anymore because of Hardin,” Moore said.
Hardin was arrested near Toledo in October on multiple charges in a Lucas County indictment, which include abuse of a corpse and operating an unlicensed funeral home. The arrest was made following the discovery of human cremains stored at a business in Columbus.
He has since been re-indicted and faces more than 40 different charges, including abuse of a corpse, representation as a funeral director while unlicensed, identity fraud and theft. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
In the church where Moore’s mother was laid to rest, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation confirmed dozens of human cremains have been found.
Hardin’s attorney, Richard Kerger of Toledo, told WJW his client never portrayed himself as a funeral director and was simply trying to provide a service.
“As we understand the laws of Ohio, he doesn’t have to be licensed. He is performing these services as a minister in his church and there’s a special exemption for rabbis or leaders in the Muslim community to perform those services, Amish are big users of those services,” Kerger said.
“It is contended that he was saying he was a funeral director. I can assure you that he knew since 2016 that the funeral and embalmers board was after him for that reason and he would never have said that he is a funeral director. He may have made some mistakes early on; I know there are some business cards with that term on it but I’m not sure he ever used it,” he added.
WJW found an abuse of a corpse charge filed against Hardin in Akron Municipal Court in 2017, months before Barbara Moore’s funeral. It was dismissed by the court.
“Now, I’m not saying that the people who are filing complaints are lying. They are in a very emotional period of their lives, they lost a loved one and are trying to cope with it and presumably have very little understanding of the funeral business or how it works,” Kerger said.
The Moores admit they were grief-stricken and vulnerable but trusted a person who they saw as a man of God to treat them properly.
But Kerger said the cremains that were found at the church came from Toledo Funeral Director Robert Tate, who gave up his license in 2016 after facing charges himself.
“Tate got cross wise with the board and had I think 11 bodies awaiting cremation and were stored in his funeral home and the board contended that was improper. He was charged with abuse of a corpse and that case was resolved with him turning in his funeral director’s license, leaving that profession and agreeing to do something,” Kerger said.
Kerger said Tate owned the Akron church and donated the building to Hardin. After losing his license in 2016, Tate gave Hardin the cremains to store in the church, saying the families never came back to pick them up and Tate was having trouble identifying relatives.
“Mr. Tate died in 2017, a year after he lost his license. So Shawn has these cremains. He didn’t know what to do with them, he didn’t just want to dispose of them because, as unlikely as it is, a family member might somehow track it down and say, ‘Hey you have the remains of my grandfather,'” Kerger said.
Kerger could not tell WJW if Hardin had any of the documents related to the discovered cremains.
The Moores, however, said they never got their documents from Hardin, including a death certificate. Now, they are left to wonder if what is in the urn they were given is even the cremains of Barbara.
“Some of us were just getting to the point where we could talk about her and not cry. We were just getting to that point, but this has reopened… It’s terrible,” Moore said.
“He was trying to provide a service. Is it possible he made a mistake from time to time? Of course, it’s possible, he’s human. That doesn’t make him a criminal,” Kerger said.