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Woman loses $5,000 after funeral home closes: ‘I trusted him’

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Janet Watkins' mom, Dorothy, never had much herself, yet she always wanted to help someone else.

"She’ll see people going up and down the street...You think they’re hungry? I’m like, I don’t know momma, I don’t know that person," Watkins said.

Now 95 years old, Dorothy can no longer do as much, and her daughter knows she will not live forever.

"She’s a beautiful person, her goodbye deserve to be done right," Watkins said.

So three years ago, Watkins wiped out her retirement savings and wrote Brunson Funeral Chapel in Richmond a check for $5,340.

Dorothy Watkins' check.

Dorothy Watkins' check.

"Mr. Brunson told me he was going to put it in an escrow because I paid the full amount," Watkins said.

She showed us the receipt and contract for the pre-paid funeral arrangement.

"I trusted him," Watkins said.

Yet, Watkins now feels that trust was misplaced.

Janet Watkins and Melissa Hipolit.

Janet Watkins and Melissa Hipolit.

The funeral home closed shortly after she wrote her check when the owner died, and it never re-opened.

"All I want is some answers as to where my money is because I don’t have it like that and that’s a lot of money for me," Watkins said.

Watkins is not the first person to come to WTVR CBS 6 with this issue.

Brunson Funeral Chapel

Brunson Funeral Chapel

Nearly one year ago, WTVR CBS 6 reporter Greg McQuade talked to another woman who told us she pre-paid over $6,600 to Brunson for her own funeral, and she never got it back.

We visited the Richmond property website to see who currently owned the funeral home.

We found two people listed.

One of them is the original owner's son who died shortly after his father.

The other is the original owner's sister.

CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit talked to her over the phone.

"I inherited the building only by will of the late Mr. Brunson, Sr. Brunson Funeral Chapel, the business, belongs to Mr. Brunson Jr.'s wife," she said.

She said she, herself, had nothing to do with the business.

Hipolit also contacted the state board that regulates funeral directors and embalmers.

The board directors told her there is nothing they can do.

"I’m at a loss," Watkins said.

Hipolit learned states like South Carolina, Mississippi, and Illinois have consumer protection funds that can reimburse people when this happens, but Virginia does not.

"It’s not fair, I am left out in the cold with no answers," Watkins said.

The Virginia Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers suggested Watkins try taking civil action against the funeral home, but Watkins said she does not have the money to hire an attorney.

Watkins said she was calling the state Attorney General's consumer hotline to file a complaint.

Hipolit also put Watkins in touch with Delegate Lamont Bagby.

Baby said his team is researching the issue, and they are seeing what can be done to help her and others in the future.

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