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The Darkish Deeds of David Wayne Sconce and the Lamb Funeral Residence Scandal

Of their quiet moments of farewell, households entrust morticians with their family members, anticipating care, respect and dignity. 

These professionals, typically thought of pillars of help in occasions of grief, play essential roles within the mourning course of. Beneath the floor of this trusted occupation, nonetheless, lies a troubling actuality. 

Some within the funeral trade, not proof against the vices of fraud and greed, see the vulnerability of grieving households as a possibility for exploitation. 

In truth, some have known as the trade a predatory one, squeezing upsold extravagances from susceptible households who can’t afford them throughout their time of grief.

It’s no marvel the funeral market has gotten a foul identify. In 1963 when Jessica Mitford’s revealing guide, “American Method of Loss of life” was printed, the typical funeral in america value about $750, which interprets to about $7,500 in 2024.

Funeral prices have risen far past the already steep fee of inflation, nonetheless. At the moment, the common funeral value might be as excessive as $12,000 or extra. 

In the meantime, the price of a funeral with cremation prices between $6,000 and $7,000.

With the rising prices of funeral providers, the monetary burden on mourning households has grow to be a urgent concern, making them vulnerable to deceit at a time when their judgment is clouded.

It was on this context of belief and vulnerability that David Wayne Sconce’s crimes occurred. Sconce’s saga, nonetheless, was far darker than mere exploitation. He abused the belief positioned in him by clientele in a string of crimes that spanned a long time.

The Household Enterprise

Satirically, Sconce was born into the funeral trade. His great-grandfather established Pasadena Calif.’s  Lamb Funeral Residence in 1929, and it had remained a household enterprise ever since. Lamb additionally opened the Pasadena Crematorium.

By the point Sconce entered the image, his mom Laurieanne Lamb Sconce and father Jerry Sconce have been working Lamb Funeral Residence. David Sconce obtained his embalming license to work within the household enterprise in 1982 earlier than branching out and beginning his personal crematory, Coastal Cremations, Inc.

Sconce’s marketing strategy concerned promoting his crematory providers to funeral houses that didn’t have entry to their very own crematoriums. Sconce provided his providers for half of the trade commonplace value – simply $55 per physique, together with transport to and from the crematorium.

How was Sconce capable of supply his providers for such a reduced worth? The reply is disturbing within the very least.

Unraveling a Scandal

The primary trace of a scandal occurred in 1987 when the native fireplace division obtained an unsettling telephone name. The caller reported darkish clouds of smoke emitting from Oscar’s Ceramics Manufacturing unit, and a odor the World Battle II veteran recalled as burning flesh. 

It didn’t take lengthy for the fireplace division to find Oscar’s Ceramics wasn’t manufacturing pottery in any respect, it was being utilized by Coastal Cremations to complement its main furnaces. Sconce was, nonetheless, illegally working the enterprise utilizing a ceramics manufacturing unit license.

Enterprise had been so booming – by 1985 Sconce was cremating as many as 8,000 our bodies annually – that the Pasadena Crematorium’s twin furnaces have been working 18 hours a day… and nonetheless couldn’t accommodate the amount of orders. 

The ceramics manufacturing unit, too, couldn’t accommodate the inflow of cremation requests – at the very least not legally. Whereas California regulation calls for cremations can solely happen one physique at a time, Sconce’s enterprise flaunted the regulation and routinely carried out mass cremations. 

Staff later testified that they sometimes cremated about 9 corpses at a time, however typically competed in opposition to each other to attempt to cram probably the most our bodies – as many as 15 even – right into a furnace collectively. 

Hearth inspectors on the scene have been horrified at what they discovered contained in the makeshift crematorium. Upon opening one of many furnaces, a burning human foot instantly fell to the ground. Barrels of ashes have been scattered about.

What occurred to these barrels of ashes? Staff later testified they have been instructed to scoop acceptable quantities from the barrels – particular weights for males and one other quantity for females.

Disrespecting the deceased and cremating extra our bodies than allowed by regulation was the very tip of the iceberg for Sconce’s felony acts. As his enterprise was investigated, extra shady techniques have been dropped at mild – significantly the theft of human stays.

Normal working observe for Coastal Cremations concerned inspecting each physique for gold fillings. 

“Make the pliers sing,” an worker recalled Sconce instructing. The steel would later be melted down and offered to pawn retailers. If the jaw was locked, Sconce had it opened utilizing a screwdriver or perhaps a crow bar. 


The scandal, nonetheless, doesn’t even finish there. 

In 1986, Sconce and his mother and father launched a three way partnership, Coastal Worldwide Eye and Tissue Financial institution, by which they’d promote physique components obtained from the corpses they’re paid to respect.

How have been they capable of revenue from human tissues when California regulation requires signed consent type the subsequent of kin? By forging the authorizations, in fact! 

Over one 3-month interval, Sconce and his staff absconded 136 brains, 145 hearts and 100 lungs to be used in medical faculties. In a single case, in line with prosecutors, a household was prevented from viewing its cherished one’s physique as a result of unbeknownst to them the eyes had already been taken.

Whereas it wasn’t authorized to promote the tissues outright, the corporate as a substitute was paid for extraction and dealing with. 

Finally, the Lamb Funeral Residence case led to an enormous lawsuit involving 100 mortuaries that contracted with the Sconce and firm  for cremations. The $15.5 million swimsuit in 1991 concerned 20,000 family of individuals cremated by the funeral dwelling.

Sconce additionally pled responsible to 21 counts associated to the unlawful crematory operation in trade for a 5 yr sentence. It wasn’t his first time afoul the regulation, nonetheless.

Conspiracies to Silence Opponents

Suppose Sconce couldn’t sink decrease than disrespecting and robbing the lifeless? Suppose once more.

On the similar time he was working an unlawful crematory operation, Sconce was taking motion to guard his worthwhile enterprise. 

Opponents began paying attention to Sconce’s prolific enterprise, not solely due to the cut price basement costs he charged, but additionally because of the quantity he was capable of accommodate. 

In 1984, Ron Hast, who printed “Mortuary Administration,” an trade publication, threatened to reveal Sconce and his mother and father for performing a number of cremations. He needed Laurieanne Sconce to state in writing that her cremations have been executed individually.

David Sconce, nonetheless, couldn’t allow such an oath to happen. He mentioned he was going to have his “boys” pay the editor a go to.

Hast later recalled that he and a pal have been attacked by two males posing as policemen, who threw ammonia and jalapeno sauce of their eyes. 

One in all David’s “boys” later pled responsible to beating Hast, testifying that Sconce paid him $700 or $800 for the assault.

Whereas assault is way from homicide, Sconce’s crime spree wasn’t over. 

Tim Waters was a Burbank mortician with a status for honesty. Nonetheless, he was unpopular amongst rivals within the cremation market as a result of he aggressively took enterprise away from them. 

Waters didn’t have his personal cremation service or funeral dwelling. As a substitute, he acted as a center man, gathering our bodies, taking them to crematorium and returning them. 

Waters unfold rumors that the Sconces have been cremating multiple physique at a time. In 1985, Waters was attacked by a person who ultimately testified that Sconce commissioned the assault and advised him to make it seem like a theft, so he additionally stole Waters’ jewellery.

Two months later, nonetheless, after falling unwell, Waters died of what was assumed to be a coronary heart assault. It was solely later that police started trying into the dying… after Sconce was heard bragging about poisoning him. 

A Sconce worker later confessed that he had dropped one thing into Waters’ drink at a restaurant. The Ventura County coroner’s workplace re-examined tissues saved from Waters’ unique post-mortem, and it modified the reason for dying to poisoning by oleander. 

Because of these acts, conspiracy and assault costs have been added to the litany of cremation-related costs Sconce and the Lamb Funeral Residence confronted in 1988. 

Costs, nonetheless, have been later dropped when the decide discovered Sconce had tried to withdraw from the conspiracy.

Whereas the preliminary costs might need been levied along with the funeral business-related infractions, leading to the identical 5-year jail sentence, they didn’t spell the tip of Sconce’s crime spree. In truth, his crimes would solely escalate.

Information Chronicle, April 5, 1991

Conspiracy to Commit Homicide

When you thought Sconce’s crimes associated solely to defending his unlawful crematory enterprise, you’d be mistaken. In truth, he would face critical costs earlier than finishing his 5-year jail sentence.

Certainly, prosecutors filed two new costs in opposition to Sconce, alleging he solicited the homicide of Elie Estephan, proprietor of the Cremation Society of California. 

Who was Estaphan, and why did Sconce need him killed? 

Estephan was married to Cindy Strunk, daughter of a competitor funeral dwelling. When the pair separated, Strunk started to this point Sconce’s brother-in-law. 

Throughout Strunk’s divorce proceedings, it was revealed that she was the beneficiary of a $250,000 life insurance coverage coverage on Estephan. In an effort to seize a bit of that windfall, Sconce provided an worker $10,000 to homicide Estephan. Luckily for all concerned, this homicide by no means occurred. 

As a result of Sconce was nonetheless going through his different costs, he ultimately was provided lifetime parole if he pled responsible to the newest conspiracy cost.

Later Authorized Repercussions

Sconce was launched from jail after serving simply 2 ½ of his 5-year sentence. One would possibly suppose he can be keen to remain beneath the radar – and keep out of jail. In spite of everything, Sconce nonetheless confronted conspiracy costs, which finally led to lifetime probation in 1997, an uncommon sentence in California.

After launch, Sconce saved in contact together with his parole workplace by mail, transferring to a number of states together with Nevada, Arizona and Montana. 

Ultimately, nonetheless, Sconce should have let his guard down, as a result of in 1994 he pled responsible to promoting cast bus tickets whereas he was working as a bus driver in Arizona. He was once more sentenced to a 5-year jail time period for that cost.

Sconce finally ended up in Montana, the place he obtained permission to maneuver whereas caring for his ailing partner. 

Sconce popped again up within the information in 2008, when he filed a grievance in federal court docket, alleging the Montana director of the Interstate Fee for Grownup Offender Supervision violated his civil rights by itemizing him as a violent offender. 

This standing, Sconce claimed, prevented him from acquiring employment as a college bus driver, work he mentioned he’d executed in three states whereas on probation

By 2011, Sconce was again in court docket for a firearms cost. 

The previous mortician had “borrowed” a gun from a neighbor, and as a substitute of returning it he tried to promote it at a pawn store.

As a result of the firearms cost was a federal offense, it triggered an allegation that Sconce violated the lifetime probation time period he had obtained in Los Angeles County. He was sentenced as soon as once more to five years in jail for the firearms cost.

Sconce wasn’t off the hook but, nonetheless. The decide who had ordered lifetime probation for Sconce’s California crimes had warned of Sconce’s final probability. If he appeared once more, it could be a 25-to-life sentence, and that’s what the ex-cremator obtained. 

As anticipated, prosecutors requested the complete lifetime sentence in reference to the conspiracy to homicide Estephan greater than 20 years prior. Lastly, the profession felony was behind bars. 

“Anybody who threatens his household or his enterprise is in his bull’s eye goal,” mentioned court docket reporter Kathy Braidhill, who wrote a guide, “Chop Store” about Sconce’s unlawful exploits.

“He had employed people to beat (rival mortician) Ron Hast and his companion as a result of he threatened to inform in regards to the a number of cremations. They have been overwhelmed bloody,” Braidhill advised NBC Montana.

The place is Sonce as we speak? He was launched on parole in early 2023. Optimistically, it’s the final anybody hears of him any time quickly.


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