Shawnte Hardin, 41, was charged in September with 44 counts. It is unclear if authorities plan to upgrade charges against him after nearly 90 remains were found at his abandoned church
An Ohio pastor without a funeral license is being investigated by police after the remains of 89 people were found stored in boxes and bags at his abandoned church in Akron.
Shawnte Hardin, 41, pastor of the abandoned Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church, was charged in September with 44 counts after two bodies were recovered from a building he was using for funeral services in Columbus, the Ohio Attorney General’s office said.
At the time he was charged with racketeering, tampering with records, identity fraud and abuse of a corpse in Lucas County, 100 miles from Akron.
On Tuesday, investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation seized Hardin’s abandoned church after a woman claiming to be an ‘urban explorer’ entered the church and found the remains.
Hardin’s attorney, Richard Kerger, said Thursday that a former funeral director named Robert Tate Jr asked Hardin in 2017 to store the ashes of people whose families had not claimed them.
‘There was no compensation for him,’ Kerger said of Hardin. ‘He was just doing a service for someone who needed it.’
It is unclear if authorities plan to upgrade charges against Hardin after the nearly 90 remains were found.
In October, Hardin was taken into custody to Lucas County Jail in northwest Ohio. It does not appear he’s been released on bail at this time.
On Tuesday, investigators from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation seized Hardin’s abandoned church and found the remains of 89 people were found stored in boxes and bags
Hardin was the pastor at the abandoned Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church
Authorities said Hardin also has a history of criminal violations for acting as an unlicensed funeral director in Franklin, Summit and Cuyahoga counties since at least 2019.
The cases were consolidated in Toledo, with Hardin pleading not guilty.
Tate, the funeral director who allegedly asked Hardin to store the remains at his church in 2017, pleaded no contest to one felony and three misdemeanor charges in November 2015 after authorities board found 11 bodies in various states of decay at his Toledo funeral home.
Tate was sentenced to a week in jail and probation. He died in December at age 65.
The remains at Hardin’s church in Akron were initially discovered Sunday by a woman who told a state investigator she was an ‘urban explorer’ and had entered an open door of an abandoned church.
She contacted the Ohio State Bureau of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, triggering the state investigation.
The woman said some of the ashes dated to 2010, according to a search warrant affidavit written by state investigative agent Arvin Clar.
Kerger disputed that the church was abandoned. He said Hardin has not been able to check on the building since being placed on home detention at his mother’s home in Columbus while awaiting trial.
The family of Joseph Blackshear, whose remains Hardin stored at the church, said they were misled and told Blackshear had been buried next to a relative.
‘It’s heartbreaking. It’s crazy to think that, you know, anyone would do anything like that,’ Blackshear’s niece, Geneva, told Fox.
Hardin was initially indicted with 37 counts in September after being accused of running an unlicensed funeral operation
The family of Joseph Blackshear, whose remains Hardin stored at the church, said they were told Blackshear had been buried next to a relative
‘It’s heartbreaking. It’s crazy to think that, you know, anyone would do anything like that,’ Blackshear’s niece, Geneva, said after her uncle’s remains were found at Hardin’s church
Hardin was initially indicted with 37 counts in September after being accused of running an unlicensed funeral operation. The investigation began that same month after someone called 911 and reported seeing a corpse being moved from a van into a building.
State agents subsequently removed two bodies from the building.
Hardin told a Columbus television station at the time he was not acting as a funeral director but instead offered low cost services for transporting and washing dead bodies.
He was charged with seven additional counts, including abuse of a corpse in December.
According to his attorney, state law does not require a funeral director’s license to bury people.
‘There’s nothing wrong with helping people dispose the remains of their loved ones,’ Kerger said.