Missouri woman who kept husband's corpse in home freezer for a year before arrest sues to get his body back

Barbara Watters, 67, is suing local authorities, claiming that her requests for the retrieval of her husband's body from the coroner's office were disregarded by them

                            Missouri woman who kept husband's corpse in home freezer for a year before arrest sues to get his body back
Barbara Watters (Joplin Police Department)

JOPLIN, MISSOURI:  A woman has filed a lawsuit against local authorities demanding they return her husband's corpse, which she kept in a freezer in her bedroom till she was arrested last year.  

Barbara Watters, 67, has sued the Joplin police, the city government, and the Jasper County coroner Rob Chappel, claiming that her requests for the retrieval of her husband, Paul Barton's body from the coroner's office were disregarded by the authorities. Her attorney Austin Knoblock said that Watters was being denied her rights to the possession and sepulcher of her husband’s body. “There’s simply no legal reason why they would continue to withhold his remains,” Knoblock told the Jopling Globe.

In addition, the lawsuit also demanded the return of some of the items seized by the police during the search of her residence last year, including the couple’s marriage license and a document granting her power of attorney with respect to her husband.

Watters was charged in November 2019 with the abandonment of a corpse. At the time the plaintiff said that her husband died at the age of 71 at their home, after suffering from a rare form of Lou Gehrig’s disease. "Terrified” that doctors might harvest his organs for research, she maneuvered his body into a freezer in their bedroom. She did this despite the fact that Barton signed an affidavit before his death, refusing to donate his brain and spinal cord for research.

“We both believed that carving people up and using their organs is ghoulish and goes against God’s word,” Watters told the Globe in a recent telephone interview.

Investigators discovered last year that the last time any neighbors recalled seeing Barton alive was in December 2018. Authorities believe that the body of Barton had been kept in Watters' freezer for a better part of 2019. However, a judge dismissed the charge against Watters on January 31, noting that her actions did not suggest an “abandonment” of the body, which is illegal, but simply meant that she sought to preserve it and keep it close to her.

Chappel has confirmed that Barton's body is still at the coroner's office but has declined to comment further. The suit also alleges that Chappel has failed to provide a death certificate. Watters also expressed fears in the lawsuit that her husband’s brain and spinal cord may have been removed during the autopsy, which has confirmed that her husband's cause of death was the incurable disease. Watters “will suffer irreparable harm if Mr. Barton’s body is not returned to her in the condition in which it was seized," the suit claimed. 

Knoblock said that his client has not been allowed to see her husband’s body since the autopsy was performed. Also, since the autopsy report did not include photographs of the body, she had no way of knowing in what condition her husband's body was in. She also has no idea about the whereabouts of the corpse. Knoblock sent a letter on March 26 to Chappel demanding the return of his client's husband's body but the coroner said at the time that he was waiting on the advice of his insurance company’s attorney before responding to the request. The lawsuit was filed after the lack of follow-up in the matter. 

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