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Long Beach California, 90815-0679
Phone: (562) 597-8000
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Feature Stories

Funeral Interrupted by Payment Demand

From Issue: Volume XXI - Number 22

by Steve Propes

Evelyn Hileman of Bellflower is no stranger to practices of the funeral industry. When her 24-year-old daughter Jamie collapsed and died of lobar pneumonia in 2006, Hileman chose Luyben Family-Dilday-Mottel Mortuary in Lakewood Village to make the arrangements, which went off without a snag.

Thus, when her father, Michael Gregory, passed away at age 80 on September 13 after a short bout with cancer, Hileman, 54, again chose Luyben to make the arrangements. “He was full of life and literally within a couple of months had taken ill and passed away,” Hileman told the Hews Media Group in Cerritos.

“I called them the day my dad died. I went in that day, sat down, looked through the books. I then paid them $10,000 on my dad’s debit card.” Hileman stated she asked the funeral director if her father’s funeral was paid in full the day before the services. “She said ‘you’re good to go’ the day before his funeral.”
One day later, that all changed.

“We arrived at the mortuary at the day of the service, we were told by the funeral director we owed $1,250 to Forest Lawn for digging the hole and burying my father. It was bad timing. I figured two days of her talking to me, she’s the funeral director,” that there would be no more surprises.

“She told me I needed to call the cemetery to buy a vault, which makes the ground not sink in, but they sell the vaults at the mortuary and it was cheaper that way.” According to Hileman, the cost was less than a thousand dollars.

“I told her no problem. Then I sat myself in the front row. There were probably 50 people there. The pastor was talking and here comes the funeral director, hands me this note, I opened it, it said $1,250. My girlfriend was singing, here she comes again with a note. She tells me there will be no burial unless it’s paid for. I handed it to my husband, I was getting irritated. She stood right in front of us.

“My husband said, ‘I’ll leave, I’ll go get the card.’” According to Hileman, her husband, Ray Hileman, 50, wanted to eulogize her Korean War veteran father and share some stories, like about the time he put out a man who had set himself on fire in front of a Thrifty Drugstore, but because he had to go back and forth to his Bellflower home, the eulogy never happened.

“It bothered him, he wanted to speak. When the service was over, the funeral director becomes the hearse driver, pulls in front of the car I’m in. She was turning left, she hit the curb at the cemetery. We’re thinking the service isn’t going on until my husband gets there, but the funeral director told the military guy to speed the service up right now.

“When the service was over, my husband was there. He wanted to be at the grave site to talk about my dad, since no one else did. People were wondering why he kept leaving. People thought we were holding up the funeral.

“When I gave her the card, the director told us because the card belonged to a deceased person, it was no good. It was good when I paid for the funeral. The card was always good.

“She said, ‘we want you to go home and get a check.’ All these people were going to my house. When I went back to her office, I told her ‘we’re not paying another dime. You screwed up the whole funeral, now you’re doing it again.’”

Apprised of these events, Jonathan Polk of Belmont Heights Funeral Center said if money was owed, he would not approach under those circumstances. “Not during the ceremony. Most funeral directors wouldn’t go that far in the process without it being taken care of. I would never approach anybody while a service was going on. That’s pretty bad.”

According to Polk, “Luyben is owned by Services Corporation International (SCI) in Houston. They still have family members working in management to keep the face. That’s the whole purpose of keeping people there. That’s why the smaller home can give competition. All Souls Cemetery is also SCI.”

Luyben mortuary manager Jim Morgan stated he knew of Hileman’s complaints. “It doesn’t make any sense. I know there was bad communication. The cemetery tried to reach her several times, but didn’t make contact. Does it make sense to you? I’m not saying who did what and what happened.”

“They did make it miserable for me that day,” said Hileman. “I hope it’s a very long time before I need to use a mortuary again but when I do need one, it will not be Luyben.”