COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ever since they were kids, Carol King says she remembers Shawnte Hardin wanting to be a mortician.
“We would play hide and go seek and he was like I want to play funeral home,” she said.
King says the family trusted Hardin to take care of her sisters’ funeral because the family had seen him perform funerals for others.
“I had no reason to believe he was not a legit funeral director,” she says.
However, all that changed when her sister, 58-year old Rhonda Cooper, died of a heart attack in 2021.
Cooper sister wanted to be cremated, but much to the family’s shock, she was kept inside Hardin’s business on East Livingston Avenue.
King says she was in disbelief when investigators called her in the middle of the night about the discovery.
“I was like you must have the wrong person you know she's getting prepared we are getting ashes,” she said.
The discovery of Cooper's body was nearly a month after the funeral on Aug. 31.
“It's unexplainable, it's hurtful I don't like to use the term evil a lot but it’s downright evil,” King said.
To make matters worse, King said the family had to go to another funeral home to identify her sister's body.
“I still have nightmares and I can't sleep because I can't get that image out of my head,” she said.
Hardin has denied any wrongdoing. He was indicted by a Lucas County grand jury Thursday on 37 counts, ranging from abuse of a corpse to operating a funeral home while unlicensed and passing bad checks.
A 2020 search warrant details how families reported paying for funeral services he never delivered.
In a case from the same year, investigators say Hardin told one family he was a funeral director and transported a body from Columbus to Akron to be embalmed. The body was then taken at an Islamic mosque in Columbus.
The family went to the mosque, thinking it was a funeral home. The person at the mosque told the family the body couldn't be held at the location because the person wasn't Muslim.
Hardin then decided to have the body kept at a church on Champion Avenue.