Beloved husband & dad is mourned, but it's not his body in the casket

Posted: August 19, 2009

The mourners knew it wasn't Tex.

Nearly everyone who passed the silver casket at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church yesterday morning whispered to each other. That's not Tex, they said. But the corpse was wearing his blue suit and black boots.

The late Kenneth "Tex" Roberts, 80, who died Monday of a heart attack, was a jovial, mustached, retired tractor-trailer driver who loved to tell jokes, play cards and help people when they were down.

On Monday night, Roberts' wife, Janie Holsey, and others went to check the body at James L. Hawkins Funeral Home, at 1640 Federal St., and told a female employee: "This is not my husband."

But family members said the woman at the South Philadelphia funeral home insisted: "That's how they look when they die."

She was "so nasty," pushing us out of the funeral home, said Rhonda Wearing, 52, the oldest of Roberts' three daughters.

So yesterday morning, Roberts' wife, eight children and three stepchildren stood for two hours greeting nearly 200 mourners inside Tindley church, at 742 S. Broad St.

"I touched him," Wearing said. "We kissed him. Some of us thought it was him."

About 11 a.m., just after the funeral director gave Holsey an American flag in honor of her husband's Army military service - he was discharged in 1954 - the director asked to speak with the immediate family in a second-floor conference room before the funeral was to start.

The director, whose name was not available, said: " 'I'm sorry, it was a mix-up,' " said Wearing. "That was a hell of a mix-up."

"It wasn't my dad," Wearing said. "It was some other person lying in my dad's suit and clothes. He wasn't dark and short. He was brown-skinned, 5 foot 9, about 180 pounds, and wore glasses.

"The man in the casket looked older than my father," she added. And that man had been killed, she said she was told.

Horrified relatives burst into tears in the conference room. One of Roberts' daughters yelled, "Go get my father!" A grandchild screamed, "Where's Pop Pop?"

"They were crying and running around in circles," said Lois Bundy, 73, a sister-in-law. "It was terrible, it was just chaos, it really was."

Distraught, hysterical mourners poured out of the church onto the sidewalk, while others tried to calm them down.

"It traumatized all of us," Wearing said.

Keith Harris, 19, had a seizure and was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. An unidentified woman had an asthma attack and was also taken to a hospital, Wearing said.

Meantime, the funeral home found Roberts' remains, and rushed them back to the church. When an assistant opened the door of the hearse, mortified relatives screamed at the sight.

"The casket had tilted and his leg was hanging out," said Wearing, who believed they drove so fast, hitting bumps, that the casket opened.

"It was unspeakable," she added.

"How do you not know the person [deceased] had a heart attack? Why did we have to stand in line looking at the casket at a guy who was not my father?" Wearing asked.

WPVI-TV reported last night that Roberts' body had been in a casket for a funeral at the Francis Funeral Home, on Whitby Avenue at 52nd Street, West Philadelphia. Both funeral homes are under the same ownership, the station said.

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