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Family sues New York City funeral home, say loved one's badly decomposed body prevented open casket

"There were maggots crawling out of the side of her eye. There was a foul smell emanating from the casket. She was bloated and distorted," an attorney said.
John J. McManus & Sons Funeral Home
John J. McManus & Sons Funeral Home in Brooklyn, N.Y.Google Maps

What was supposed to be an open casket funeral for a New York mother-of-two who died in her sleep quickly turned into a nightmare when the family discovered maggots crawling on the badly decomposed and unrecognizable body, their attorney said.

Regina Lea Christophe, 37, died on June 24 at her home, according to a lawsuit filed last week against John J. McManus & Sons Funeral Home in Brooklyn.

Attorney Kurt Robertson, who is representing the family, told NBC News that Christophe and some of her relatives had been out celebrating her 6-year-old son's graduation from kindergarten.

Chantal Jean and Regina Christophe
Chantal Jean and Regina Lea Christophe.Courtesy Kurt Robertson/Robertson & Associates

Christophe decided to go home alone because she had to work the following morning while her relatives went out to eat, he said. She was found dead in her bed on the morning of June 25 after her mother went to her home, Robertson said.

The family immediately contacted the New York City medical examiner's office, which transported the body so an autopsy could be performed. The results are still pending. They also contacted John J. McManus & Sons Funeral Home to make arrangements for a July 9 service.

Robertson said the family wanted an open casket service, but when they arrived at the funeral home, they saw a "clearly decomposed" body laying on display.

"There were maggots crawling out of the side of her eye. There was a foul smell emanating from the casket. She was bloated and distorted," he said. "There were stains all over her dress from where they put on makeup, garbage bags around her feet and arms. Her skin on her face looked like it was melting off, it was very dark, discolored."

Robertson said it "looked like they started a cremation process and didn’t finish or she was melting off."

Christophe's mother, Chantal Jean, had to keep her daughter's two sons out of the room until the casket could be closed and removed. The family held the service using a photograph of Christophe, according to the attorney.

The lawsuit accuses the funeral home of failing to keep Christophe’s remains in good condition, therefore preventing the family from having a proper goodbye. Robertson said the family was also never warned by the funeral home about the condition of Christophe’s body. They are seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Since the ordeal, Jean has been struggling and is in a "very dark place," the attorney said. She has had to seek counseling.

A person who answered the phone Wednesday at John J. McManus & Sons Funeral Home declined to comment. Anthony Tenga, a manager at the funeral home, told News 12 that he was "devastated ... by what she looked like." He said that heat and how long Christophe’s body was at the medical examiner's office played a role in the decomposition.

The medical examiner's office transported the body on June 25, the day she was found, Robertson told NBC News. The funeral home said they picked up the remains four days later on June 29, he said.

The medical examiner's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.