Memphis funeral homes see business surge amid COVID-19 pandemic and increased homicides

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — 2020 was the deadliest year in Memphis history. Nearly six months into 2021, we’re on pace to shatter that record.

The surge in deaths from homicides and COVID is taking a toll on people responsible for working with the dead.

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“Our caseload on an average day is much larger than it normally would be a year and a half ago,” said Benjamin Figura, MD/West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center.

Figura is a forensic anthropologist at West Tennessee Regional Forensic Center. Their employees investigate all deaths outside of a doctor’s care, such as drug overdoses, accidents, and homicides. And those cases are up.

“Last time we looked at it was last fall. We were up about 40% from the year before. We have maintained that pace up until now,” said Figura.

Murders are contributing to the increase.

Last year Memphis reported a record 290 murders.

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2021 could be even worse. As of Monday, there have been 115 murders in Memphis compared to 99 the same day last year.

“The homicide rate here in Memphis is depressing. Our numbers have increased,” Quinton Taylor, M.J. Edwards Funeral Home.

Taylor said in the last year and a half, he and his staff have been swamped between COVID-related deaths and homicides.

“We average anywhere between 20 to 30 families a week. And that number went up to a probably 40,” said Taylor.

Taylor called on people to put down the guns.

“It’s not like what you see on TV. You see someone kill someone on TV, they go to jail then they’re in another movie. You go to jail, you’re there. You get killed, you’re dead, and I don’t think they take that seriously,” said Taylor.

Figura said the boost in deaths they investigate may not have been due directly to COVID, but the pandemic contributed in some way. For example, those people may have skipped doctor’s appointments that could have saved their lives.

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