What do you do with the body of a monster? How do you handle the death of someone who has killed, raped, or destroyed so many? Do you just toss them into the ocean, like Bin Laden? Do they even deserve a funeral or a burial?
The truth is, the body of a mass murderer has to go somewhere. Someone has to take on the responsibility of burying the dead because you can’t just leave a body lying around. When Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon Bombers, died in a firefight with police, no one wanted to deal with the body, no cemeteries wanted to receive it, no funeral homes wanted to handle it, so it just remained at the medical examiner’s office for 10 days.
And that’s when Peter Stefan stepped in.
Stefan is the funeral director of Worcester’s Graham Putnam and Mahoney Funeral Parlors and has over 40 years of experience in the funeral industry. He has a reputation for burying alcoholics who had never been claimed, for sex workers who had no family, for those of us who have been shunned or ignored by society. He was one of the only funeral directors to take the bodies of AIDS victims when the disease, and the hysteria, was at its height.
“Over the years I’ve always buried the poor,” says Stefan. “They were always burying the poor when I got here. They worked with the middle income and the poor people. Some days I make a nickel, some days I make a dime, some days I lose a dollar, but overall you do enough. Who wants to be a millionaire, anyway?”
So when it became clear that Tsarnaev’s body had nowhere to go, Stefan, believing that everyone no matter what they did deserves a burial, decided to claim the body.
That did not sit well with the residents of Worcester.
What came after was a political firestorm and protests outside his place of business. One activist, Billy Breault, who has known Stefan for years, disagreed with Stefan’s decision. “What Peter did, I think it was wrong for him to get involved. This guy was an alleged terrorist. We brought him into our city. I think that was a mistake. I’ll stand by that.
“The mayor of Boston said they weren’t going to bury him. The Cambridge city manager said don’t bring him here. Ed Markey said send him back to Russia.”
But Stefan didn’t budge, stating in television interviews, “We bury our dead.” In the dead of night, he put Tsarnaev’s body in his car and drove him to a Muslim cemetery in Virginia, Al-Barzakh, and buried him in an unmarked grave.
Asked if he would do it again, Stefan replied, “Absolutely. It wouldn’t matter. We’re not dealing with a situation. We’re dealing with a dead body. Not what the dead body did.”