published Friday, January 10th, 2014

Rhode Island woman finds wrong body in mother's casket

WARWICK, R.I. — A Rhode Island woman wants answers after discovering the wrong body in a casket that should have contained her mother, who died unexpectedly in St. Maarten.

Lisa Kondvar, of Warwick, and her family discovered another woman's body in the casket at a New Jersey funeral home last month. The body of her mother, Margaret Porkka, had been prepared at a funeral home in St. Maarten.

"I looked up and I was like, 'Good God, are you kidding me?' I was stunned," Kondvar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. The family proceeded with the wake, with the casket closed, because they discovered the mistake just before calling hours were about to begin.

The family believes a hospital or funeral home confused Porkka's body with that of a Canadian woman who died on the island around the same time. They also think Porkka's body was cremated in Ottawa.

The family wants to know for sure and will take possession of the ashes if they are determined to be those of Porkka, Kondvar said.

The two women bore no resemblance to one another and were of different frames and heights, she said.

Chip Unruh, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, said Friday his office is working with State Department officials to help the family get answers. The family has hired a detective and is looking for an international attorney.

Kondvar said the funeral home in St. Maarten has not shed light on the mix-up and has tried to point fingers elsewhere, The Providence Journal reported. She said her sister was not allowed to see the body on the island and that the funeral home wouldn't release it unless the family wired $7,000 in cash because it wouldn't accept a check or credit cards.

St. Maarten, which is part of the Netherlands, shares a Caribbean island with St. Martin, a French dependency. Porkka and the family were there over Thanksgiving for a vacation.

Kondvar said her 82-year-old father, who lives in Englewood, N.J., is distraught after being unable to say goodbye to his wife of more than 60 years. He was not able to make the trip to St. Maarten.

"He's very angry and very bitter," she said.

Kondvar said a cause of death for her mother has not been provided.

The death certificate issued in St. Maarten also listed Porkka as a man, she said.

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