Family of deacon who died of COVID in the Bronx talk about a five-week struggle to locate and cremate him
Relatives and friends of a Bronx man who died of COVID-19 talked about their agonizing five weeks trying to find a way to get rid of his body – which even went missing at one point, and was disbanded into a U -Haul outside a Brooklyn funeral home.
Nathaniel Hallman, 72, deacon of Church of the Meek Baptist in Harlem, died on April 17.
His 42-year-old wife, Mitzi, 63, told the Wall Street Journal that her husband, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, contracted the virus from a rehabilitation center in the Bronx.
He was taken there in February, after a hospital stay for pneumonia.
Nathaniel Hallman, 72, deacon of the Church of the Meek in Harlem, died April 17 from COVID-19
Nathaniel and Mitzi Hallman had been married for 42 years and were devoted to their church
She was informed on April 8 that he had tested positive and the next day he was moved to the adjacent hospital to St. Barnabas Hospital.
The entire hospital had been converted into an intensive care unit for coronavirus patients, and the city’s emergency department had sent two refrigerated trucks to store the overflow from the hospital’s morgue.
When Mitzi Hallman reached her husband on the phone, he said, “I love you. Do not worry about me. Take care of yourself.’
He died on the worst day of the U.S. pandemic, with 2,614 killed across the country.
In New York City, 3,580 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 that day, and 903 were checked into hospitals.
Hallman was one of 384 who died and the city’s burial houses were overwhelmed.
His goddaughter, Hope Dukes, took charge of the funeral arrangements.
She called over twenty funeral homes, but found that they were all full.
Hallman suffered from Parkinson’s in the later years of his life, which weakened his body
Dukes, 37, called an old family friend, Reverend Marshall Morton Sr., a pastor at Unity Baptist Church in Norwalk, Connecticut, and asked for advice.
Reverend Morton introduced her to James Robinson, who runs a funeral home in Neptune City, New Jersey.
Robinson, Dukes said, asked the pastor to hire a New York funeral director who was willing to take the body from St. Barnabas Hospital to the Neptune City morgue.
Hallman’s body was collected on April 23 and taken to Robinson’s funeral home in Neptune City, but Robinson was not there and another funeral director at the house said he was unable to accept the body.
Robinson, eventually reached by phone, told Rev. Morton and Dukes to take the body to Brooklyn, where it ended up in the Flatlands neighborhood, at the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Services.
Robinson worked both in the Cleckley office and in New Jersey.
Hallman’s body was brought from the Bronx to New Jersey to this funeral home in Brooklyn
Bodies were left to decompose in rented U-Haul trucks or piled on the floor of the house
The night after Hallman’s body was delivered to Brooklyn, Robinson sent a text message to Pastor Morton, who was viewing the WSJ.
“I can’t take on bodies anymore, we have 124 bodies in a refrigerator, I can’t,” Robinson wrote.
Reverend Morton replied alarmed, “But I already took the body to Brooklyn, you should have told me in advance. I know you’re busy, I know you have a lot of bodies, but as soon as you tell me you can help me, I’ll take your word, please, the family depends on me. ‘
Robinson replied, “Okay, leave it there, I’ll take care of him and send some money for the cremation where the permit is.”
Reverend Morton sent him $ 500 to pay the costs.
Six days later, on April 29, police raided the funeral home and found dozens of bodies decomposed in U-Haul rental cars and on the floor of the nearby funeral home.
Workers at the funeral service are shown on April 29 and move the bodies out of the U-Hauls
Hallman’s body had been left in a U-Haul for six days, and his family is now suing
Hallman’s widow and dukes had no idea if he was there. But Dukes, apprehensive of the news of the grim discovery, became suspicious.
The office of the city’s Chief Medical Examiner had removed 61 bodies from the Cleckley funeral home, but found no evidence that he was there.
Finally, they found Hallman’s body, which had been mislabeled.
Hallman was cremated on May 26, 39 days after his death.
Hallman was finally cremated after 39 days
Last month, Mitzi Hallman and Dukes sued Robinson and Cleckley in New York court in search of unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Hallman’s body, according to the complaint, “was left there to rot and perish.”
The plaintiffs demanded a jury trial in the Bronx.
Robinson insisted that he was not responsible.
“I never owned that body,” he said. “I have no paperwork on that body in any capacity.
Rev. Morton is lying. I never told him not to bring a body. I told him to change the paperwork and then you can bring the body over to me. ‘
Robinson said he plans to prosecute Pastor Morton and Dukes’s ***, and said he would seek compensation from newspapers that print his name.
“You’re going to build a new funeral home for me,” he said in a telephone interview with the Journal.