• U.S.

A Grave Accusation

2 minute read
Christina Hoag

The death of R.-and-B. singer Aaliyah in a small-plane crash last August was a sad event for everyone in the music world, but it has had a particularly bad aftertaste for one small business: Butlers’ Funeral Homes and Crematorium in Nassau, the Bahamas. Loretta Turner, the funeral-home director, told TIME that Virgin Records, the singer’s label, is reneging on a verbal agreement to pay the costs of preparation and transport of the bodies of Aaliyah and eight members of her entourage who died in the crash. The mortuary is out $68,000.

“Virgin has indicated to us that they will not honor the agreement,” says Turner, who has even appealed for help to the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, to no avail. Robert Spragg, an attorney who is representing Aaliyah’s parents, Michael and Diane Haughton, in a lawsuit against Virgin and other defendants stemming from the crash, says the Haughtons were also told by Virgin executives that they would be reimbursed for their funeral expenses, but have received nothing. A Virgin representative declined to comment.

The record label (a division of British music giant EMI) has been in financial straits since Aaliyah’s death, and the executives who allegedly made the promises, former EMI chief executive Ken Berry and his wife, former Virgin vice-chairman Nancy Berry, have left the company. (They did not return phone calls seeking a comment.) Nevertheless, Turner says, she is outraged at Virgin’s behavior. “We worked 24/7 to get the bodies out as expeditiously as possible. We had to bring in extra staff. People worked on their day off.” There has not been “one word of thanks to anyone,” she says. Turner still holds the official death certificates of the nine victims, which are needed for the lawsuit to proceed and for the settling of Aaliyah’s estate. Turner says she plans to withhold the certificates until she is paid. –By Christina Hoag

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