"He had one of the best crematorium in southern California," Redmond said with a smile. In 1996, when a nearby funeral home got in trouble for improperly storing bodies, Brown was the first man Redmond called as his expert witness. "When other guys in the business had problems, I used to tell them to go and look at Brown's place. That's how a crematorium ought to be run." Brown's records were always in order; there was never a document out of place, never a signature missing. He was constantly mopping and sweeping.
But beneath his caring manner, Brown had little feeling for his customers, living or dead. Later, he would say, "I don't believe a body is worth more than garbage once you pass away."
One afternoon in February 1999, Jennifer Bittner stood in the parking lot of Brown's crematorium. She was a pretty, pale-skinned girl, with delicate features, blue eyes, and long brown hair that she wore loose down her back. Bittner appeared older than her eighteen years. Her shoulders slumped and her face was drawn with grief.
Shading her eyes from the glaring sun, Bittner stared at the long, low building. Made of stucco and stone, the crematorium was like all of the other buildings in the ofﬁce park. It was ﬂat and rectangular and resembled a warehouse. Bittner couldn't see much through the tinted glass door. But looking up, she could make out three small chimneys.
When Bittner appeared in Michael Brown's doorway, he jumped up, shook her hand, and led her into a back office. Brown made an impression on the young woman. He was about six feet tall, blond and blue-eyed, with the muscular build of a high school football star. Bittner admired his neatly trimmed goatee. Later, she recalled finding him "very attractive." He was also instantly empathetic. Brown listened and patted her arm as she explained that her cousin had just died and her family didn't have enough money for his funeral.
"It was gang violence," Bittner said softly. "My cousin was murdered."
Brown nodded gently and offered to arrange for a discounted funeral. "I'll take care of everything," he promised.
After they made the funeral arrangements, Bittner asked Brown if she could take a look around. She had always been curious about dead bodies. In her spare time, she read Patricia Cornwell mysteries, books like Postmortem and Cause of Death, and she dreamed about one day investigating crime scenes.
Excerpted from Body Brokers by Annie Cheney Copyright © 2006 by Annie Cheney. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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