Rope found in throat during embalming leads to murder charge

The John J. Bryers Funeral Home on Easton Road in Willow Grove. (Google StreetView)
The John J. Bryers Funeral Home on Easton Road in Willow Grove. (Google StreetView)
Posted: June 21, 2012

Staff Writer

At first, police say, 70-year-old Kathleen Mcewan appeared to have died of natural causes when they arrived at her apartment in Philadelphia's Roxborough section and oversaw transport of her body to a funeral home.

But funeral workers at the John J. Bryers Funeral Home in Willow Grove discovered something else the next day as they prepped Mcewan's body for embalming: up to 10 inches of rope stuffed down her throat, along with a candy wrapper.

As a result, Geraldine Cherry, 49, with an address listed by police as at the same apartment complex, was charged Wednesday night with murder and is being held without bail. There is no known motive. The relationship between Cherry and Mcewan is unclear.

Philadelphia police say there was no reason to believe foul play when they first responded to a call June 10 that a woman had died at a the Parker Place apartments on the 300 block of Parker Avenue. So Mcewan's body was taken directly to the funeral home.

Jeff Thompson, the funeral director, said nothing appeared amiss when he began readying the body for embalming. It was only when he and another staff member were doing the prep work on June 11 that they noticed the rope.

"I've done this for 20 some years, on thousands of people, and obviously I knew right away this didn't appear to be a natural cause of death," Thompson said. "We called the medical examiner."

Thompson described finding what he said was eight to 10 inches of cotton rope, similar to what might be used as a drawstring in pants or a hoodie, lodged deep in the throat. He also found a candy wrapper.

"It's a sad case," Thompson said.

A preliminary court hearing for Cherry is set for July 11.

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