SPECIAL REPORT: Stealing from the dead - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

SPECIAL REPORT: Stealing from the dead

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Expensive jewelry disappears off man's body, potentially while in the custody of public employees. Grieving family waits for answers as criminal investigation continues. Expensive jewelry disappears off man's body, potentially while in the custody of public employees. Grieving family waits for answers as criminal investigation continues.

BLADEN COUNTY, NC (WSFX) - Catherine Cartner's life changed forever last January, when her 41-year-old son died suddenly. On top of grieving his death, the Cartner family says they suffered another loss.  This time of their sense of security.

When Mrs. Cartner found her son, Derek Singletary, unresponsive inside his Bladenboro home, she tried to resuscitate him, and called 911. When EMS arrived, they told her it was too late.

At the time of his death, Singletary was wearing an expensive gold necklace and bracelet. Detectives called out to investigate his death took a picture of his body, which clearly shows he was wearing both pieces of jewelry when he died.

But that was the last time Mrs. Cartner ever saw her son's jewelry. "It was very sentimental to me," Cartner said. She explained he had worn the necklace every day for more than a decade. But when Derek's clothes were returned to her at the funeral home, his jewelry was missing. The funeral home staff told her it was never given to them.

That's when Mrs. Cartner called the Bladen County Sheriff's Office. "I do not want anyone else to have to go through this," she said of her motivation to pursue an investigation. Detectives opened an investigation into the missing jewelry, interviewed EMS workers, the assistant coroner, and people working at the morgue who handled the body - but no one confessed to taking it.

Cartner said it was devastating to think someone could have stolen something from her dead child. "We trust them. I would have never ever have dreamed in my wildest days of anything ever happening like this."

While the Sheriff's Office has yet to name a suspect, the paperwork provides some context here. It shows how the medical examiner took the time to write every article of clothing Derek was wearing down to his socks and underwear, but left the section for valuables blank.  And the box to indicate the deceased was not wearing any valuables was left unchecked.

It could be sloppy paperwork. But Mrs. Cartner believes that somewhere along the way, something much more sinister happened.

"It was taken from a dead man. What kind of a person can think that way?" she asked. "He should have or she should have to just see [Derek's] face the rest of their life. To just have to visualize looking at his face the rest of their life, and him laying there defenseless."

Authorities tell us the SBI was recently called in to assist with this investigation. The Bladen County Sheriff's Office declined to go on camera, but told us the SBI was conducting polygraph tests on some of those who were in contact with Derek's body.

Our calls for comment to the medical examiner's office to ask about the incomplete paperwork were not returned. But Bladen County officials tell us as a result of this case, they are revisiting their policies for handling the dead to prevent this from happening again.

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