The midday sun crashes over the granite tombs.
A pine scent invites itself with each breath of the breeze.
Jonathan takes off his dark glasses and points to a vault between the sandy alleys: “There it is.
A cross in perfect condition, two names engraved in gold letters and, at the foot of the anthracite block, three pots of flowers tired by the heat.
This family vault in a cemetery in Lège-Cap-Ferret (Gironde) would conceal a secret: the bones of the ancestor would have been replaced by pine cones.
Jonathan takes a sip of the can of Redbull which he grabs from the entrance to the cemetery and says: “An undertaker confessed to me… He was supposed to exhume the remains of the grandfather, put a family vault in the top and place leftovers inside in a bag.
But the chef told him there was
and he went to get some pine cones to fill the bag.
They put it in the vault and the bones are still underneath.
They didn't say anything to the family!
Break the omerta
This testimony, "one among others," Jonathan recorded. He keeps it with dozens of others stored in his daughter's old school binders or burned to USB drives. For months, the 37-year-old former funeral director has been working to “break the omerta of the death business”. For two years, he worked at Roc-Eclerc in Mérignac, near Bordeaux, before being made redundant. He saw, heard "terrible things" that he decided to deliver to justice. According to our information, an investigation has been open since last November in Bordeaux. Former colleagues have been questioned in recent weeks by the gendarmes responsible for the investigation.
“I don't know what it will look like.
I no longer want to work there.
But at least I would have spoken, ”says Jonathan.
Four years earlier, he knew nothing about the "world of death".
This trained baker has a criminal record, "youthful mistakes".
He wants to rebuild his life.
On the Pôle emploi site, he was attracted by an unexpected offer: driver-porter for funeral directors.
“Why not… It was 500m from my house.
3000 euros in compensation for a body exchange
The group behind the announcement is called Funecap, number two in funeral services in France with more than 70,000 funerals organized per year, 350 million euros in turnover in 2020. The company owns the Roc-Eclerc brand. It also buys small and medium-sized businesses every month: funeral directors in Charente-Maritime, a funeral home in Corrèze… A masterstroke in 2020 with the acquisition of the Père-Lachaise crematorium in Paris. The company obtains the “best quality of service 2021” label in Capital magazine's ranking for funeral services.
The employees' employment contract states that they must “respect the rules of professional ethics” and demonstrate “empathy, probity, confidentiality and discretion”. Jonathan started in the South-West branch of Funecap in September 2018. He thinks he “fell well”. Weeks go by. He sees colleagues "going wild", leaving the company one by one, being replaced at a moment's notice. The tongues are loosened. A story of harassment, a payroll problem ... At the end of 2019, we are talking about stories that he at first "struggled to believe". “A colleague tells me that she witnessed a body inversion before a cremation in the Arcachon basin. One of the families noticed it. The company reached an agreement to avoid the complaint. "
To read also Confined obsequies: "We will do everything to honor the memory of your mother"
Jonathan gets some documents.
For him, no doubt, they prove the wrongdoing.
On one of the documents, we can read that the company agrees to waive any debt "in view of all the unfortunate and inexcusable inconvenience" suffered by the family.
In the other, the daughter of the deceased admits having received "two checks for 1,500 euros for all compensation".
Jonathan calls his colleague at the origin of the error and records the conversation.
The master of ceremonies at fault stammers: "I looked, I risk several months in prison and several thousand euros in fines ..."
Jonathan, slicked back hair and submachine gun delivery, breath: "It's difficult, nobody wants to talk ..." Martin
(the name has been changed)
, another ex-employee, finally gives up. He was master of ceremonies at Mérignac. He too would have exchanged a body in 2018. Over the phone, he said with anxiety: “One morning, I had to prepare a body for cremation. I arrive at the refrigerated cells where the deceased are, but I cannot find the one I have to take care of. I find another body. Her name speaks to me, it's a lady who should have been cremated two days earlier… ”Martin understands the mistake. The bodies would have been reversed. He calls his manager who asks him to "cut the identification bracelet and put on a new one". “I ended up doing it… The deceased's family was coming. I was panicked. During the ceremony, Martin lies to everyone. “I saw the relatives meditating on the coffin, touching it.It was complicated for me. I knew inside there was another person. I still think about it every day… ”
This cemetery of Lège-Cap-Ferret (Gironde) would conceal a secret: the bones of a deceased would have been replaced by pine cones in the coffin.
LP / PATRICK BERNARD
Few of the employees of this branch in the South-West are engaged.
"I prefer to avoid putting myself in danger," wrote one of them in a text message.
Those who accept speak of rates worthy of the "factory".
They are exhausted by chain brewing.
Martin blows: “We barely took care of one body before we have to prepare another.
Sometimes we didn't even have time to eat… ”
(the first name has been changed)
, former master of ceremonies, answers because he "is better" after having been "on the edge of the abyss". He too "suffered the big machine". He remembers the beer he had to practice alone. “When you have to drop the body from the refrigerated cell to the coffin because you can't carry it, you hear that loud noise, it feels weird. Some crack. Discreetly. “We are often only between men. It's a very manly atmosphere. We cultivate silence. »Martin abounds:« If there are never any scandals in the funeral, it is because no one speaks. "
Jonathan was asked "several times" to "break the bones of a deceased" to "fit into a coffin that is too small," he says.
“When one person was too stout, one sat on the lid and on the body like an overfilled suitcase while the other screwed the coffin.
Jonathan mimics the scene.
He growls in his Southwestern accent: “This has to stop.
To read also "The child I buried is not mine": in the Kremlin-Bicêtre, the morgue had the wrong body
"None of this surprises me ..." sighs Michel Kawnik. The president of the French Association of Funeral Information (Afif) has been collecting testimonies from bereaved families for almost thirty years. They call him for advice in choosing their funeral directors. Sometimes he hears “despicable” stories: “A family told me that funeral directors cut off their loved one's elbow to fit it into the coffin. It exists. "
Jonathan no longer works for Funecap. After a prolonged sick leave, he was dismissed. Decision that he contests before the Labor Court. For the testimonies he collected, he pushed the door of a criminal lawyer, Me Marie Bergès. She wrote a report to the Bordeaux prosecutor in which she mentions facts "which may constitute offenses against the integrity of a corpse". Solicited, the prosecution confirms the opening of an investigation entrusted to the gendarmerie in mid-November. Jonathan has already been interviewed, as have former colleagues and the local manager of the company. Contacted, the management of the Funecap group, of which nothing indicates for the moment that it is aware of the reported facts,informs us through a communication agency that it does not wish to speak "on an ongoing investigation" of which all the elements "have not been communicated".