A Norway woman is defending her decision to bury another woman’s body in her backyard, saying she was fulfilling her friend’s dying wish.
Maine state troopers on Tuesday recovered a body from a shallow grave at a Harrison Road home, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said earlier this week. The woman, who has not been identified, was believed to be in her 80s and died within the last 12 to 18 months, he said.
An autopsy was conducted Wednesday at the Maine medical examiner’s office in Augusta.
Vernelle Jackson, an 81-year-old South Carolina native who owns the mobile home on that property, told ABC affiliate WMTW that the woman, who was her friend, had “begged” Jackson to bury her in the backyard so they could remain close even in death.
“She begged me, and I have witnesses to this. She asked me not to let her down,” Jackson told the TV station.
Jackson told the Portland Press Herald that her friend was under the care of a doctor as well as hospice care in time leading up to her death. It was about 18 months ago when she said her friend died of natural causes.
Jackson, who suffers from chronic-obstructive pulmonary disorder and first shared her story with WMTW, told the TV station that it took her two days to dig the grave and dragged her friend’s body in a blue tarp out to it.
It was an act of love, she said, crowning a decades-long friendship. The two women met when they were living in the South, and when they both found themselves living alone in Maine, they decided to move in together, according to WMTW.
Jackson moved into her friend’s Otisfield home about 20 years ago when she made the move to Maine. Then about four years ago, Jackson welcomed her friend into her Norway mobile home, which her husband, Charlie, who died eight years ago, had purchased, she told the Press Herald.
Jackson told WMTW that her friend, who had become sick, moved in with her because she was not close with her family in Virginia. She said that the two had become in a way family for each other and her friend wanted to remain close to her even in death.
“She begged me when she passed away that she didn’t have enough insurance to bury her, and I don’t have it. And she said, ‘Will you promise me to bury me in your yard so I’ll be close.’ She considered me as a daughter she never had. She said, ‘You’re the daughter I never had. I want to be close to you,’ and I finally agreed to do it to satisfy her,” Jackson told the TV station.
The investigation is ongoing, and McCausland told the Press Herald on Wednesday that the state police is waiting for the medical examiner’s office to finish its examination to determine a cause of death.
Backyard burials are permitted under Maine law, but the state requires people to obtain a permit, notify town or county authorities, and obtain a signed death certificate.
Jackson told the Portland newspaper that she did not realize that she needed a permit to bury her friend.
“If I go to jail for it, I just have to go,” Jackson told the Portland Press Herald.