Patricia "Patty Ann" Rolle died May 2 after a long bout with lung cancer. Only 68 years old, she was known as the comedian in her close-knit family.
"She was a clown," says David Slaughter, one of her five children. "She held the energy in the room."
After Rolle's death, relatives made arrangements through Manker Funeral Home, which had taken care of services for one of her children who had died years earlier. Although the family had been satisfied with the Liberty City funeral parlor's services in that prior instance, their most recent experience rattled Rolle's survivors.
Leona Rolle says she waited patiently for her sister's ashes while staff members strung her along for months before finally admitting they had lost the cremains. In a recently filed lawsuit, Rolle alleges the funeral home and its owner/operator, Monica-Grace Manker, are guilty of negligence, breach of contract, and infliction of emotional distress.
To this day, Rolle says, she has no idea what happened to her sister's ashes.
"Basically, she didn't really give me any complete answers as to why the ashes were missing," Rolle says of Manker.
Reached by New Times, Manker declined to comment on the family's lawsuit.
Property receipts provided by the family show the ashes were transferred to the funeral home by Marcel's Cremations about a week after Patricia Rolle died. Leona Rolle says she called Manker later that month and was told she couldn't pick up the ashes until the company received payment from the life insurance policy.
In July, after months of failing to make contact with the funeral home, Rolle says, she finally got Manker on the phone. Manker told her she was unable to retrieve the ashes because they were outside in a locked shed, to which another employee had the only key.
"I think the most hurtful thing for me and disturbing for me was when I called them to see if her ashes were in and she told me: 'She's in the shed,'" Rolle tells New Times. "If I were a CEO or professional person, I would never tell someone their loved one was in the shed."
More than a week passed before the family received a substantive update. This time, Rolle was informed that one of the staff members, Gregory Manker, had released her sister's cremains to a "medium height/light-skinned male with buck teeth." Slaughter says he went around town asking relatives if anyone knew the mysterious person. But he ultimately came up empty — there was simply no one in the family who matched that description.
"I was spending my personal time looking for a ghost," Slaughter says.
Finally, Slaughter and his sister confronted Gregory Manker at the funeral home. When they asked to see the company's sign-out sheet, Slaughter says, Gregory Manker couldn't present any documents with the buck-toothed man's signature.
"He showed me the paperwork — blank," Slaughter says. "He basically told us straightforward that he messed up."
In a meeting the next day, Rolle says, Monica-Grace Manker acknowledged the ashes had been lost.
"Her response was 'What can we do to resolve this?'" Rolle says. For the family, it was too little, too late.
Records from Florida's Division of Funeral, Cemetery, and Consumer Services show the funeral home has been sanctioned multiple times in recent years.
In February 2016, Manker Funeral Home reached a settlement with the state after inspectors found the facility "failed to comply with regulations regarding storage and containment of biomedical waste storage." Manker paid a $1,000 fine and had its license placed on probation for one year.
In September of that year, an inspector cited the funeral home for failing to keep the preparation room clean and sanitary, failing to properly record information about corpses in its custody, and failing to properly label caskets for sale. At an August 2017 meeting of the Board of Funeral, Cemetery, and Consumer Services, board members described conditions inside Manker Funeral Home as "absolutely filthy."
"If you look at the pictures of that prep facility, I can't comprehend anybody’s family member going into that prep facility," one member said. The board discussed revoking the funeral home's license but ultimately recommended further investigation.
This past April, the board finally considered possible sanctions stemming from the September 2016 inspection.
"What's disturbing is the number of violations and the types of violations and the fact that there was probation for some of the same violations within the past couple of years," chairman Jody Brandenburg stated.
Ultimately, the board placed the funeral home on two years' probation and levied a $10,000 fine.
As recently as last month, the state sanctioned Manker after discovering its license had lapsed for nearly two months between November 2018 and January 2019. The company was fined $300.
Amid the lawsuit over Patricia Rolle's ashes, the family's lawyer, Matthew Landau, says he has filed a new complaint against the funeral home with the state.
Slaughter says he wants to prevent the same situation happening to other people.
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"I know with my mom, she wouldn't want me to lie down and have it swept under the rug," he says.
Inside her home, Leona Rolle keeps a shiny red urn emblazoned with a dove. She hoped to place it in a plot she purchased for her sister. She even planned to put a small amount of the ashes in another container that could be placed beside her sister's son at another cemetery.
Instead, Rolle recircles the block to avoid driving by Manker Funeral Home, which is about a mile from her house.
"I can't drive by that shed," she says. "I go all the way around."