Jewish World Review Oct. 16, 2000 / 17 Tishrei 5761
While the killers
maneuver, the boy goes
COLUMBUS, Ohio | They had killed 3-year-old
P.J. Bourgeois -- they had beaten him, bitten him,
bound his wrists and legs tightly with tape, and had
left him to choke on his own blood.
Now they were arrested -- P.J.'s father, Patrick
Bourgeois, and Bourgeois' girlfriend, Tracy Lynn
Bratton, were in jail in Franklin County and
awaiting trial. They were working with their defense
attorneys on the plans that would eventually get
them out of prison early and put them back on the
streets, free and clear.
All of their rights were carefully being looked out
for -- by their lawyers, and by the courts.
Meanwhile, someone's rights were being forgotten
-- in a way that, even in the context of this awful
case, is obscene almost beyond imagining.
P.J. Bourgeois -- after the autopsy of his battered
and bruised 34-pound body -- was not allowed to
Because his killer -- Patrick Bourgeois -- from
behind bars in the Franklin County Jail became
engaged in a legal dispute with P.J.'s mother, who
lived in Lewistown, Pa., and from whom Bourgeois
was estranged. The mother -- Michelle DuMond --
had been involved in a tumultuous relationship in
Pennsylvania with Bourgeois, and Bourgeois had
ended up with the boy. He had moved from
Lewistown to Columbus with Tracy Bratton, and
he had kept the boy with him.
Now that the boy was dead, Michelle DuMond
wanted him transported back to Pennsylvania for
burial. Bourgeois, from jail, objected to this; he
may have killed P.J., but he wanted to be the one
to decide where the boy should be buried. He
wanted the burial to be in Columbus -- near him.
The Franklin County courts were asked to decide.
And so for five months the body of that little boy
remained in the Franklin County morgue. No one
came to visit; no one came to mourn or to pray.
Even in death, his interests went unprotected while
the adults in his life looked out for their own
interests, and argued with each other.
"This kind of thing just never happens," said Dr.
Patrick M. Fardal, the forensic pathologist in the
Franklin County coroner's office who had been
assigned to perform the autopsy. "Occasionally we
have someone who goes unidentified, and we have
to keep the body in the morgue because we don't
know who the person is. But for a known person?
And we know who the parents are? To keep him in
the morgue without a burial, for five months? That
But it did with P.J. "We were ordered not to
release him, so we didn't," Dr. Fardal said. "He
stayed in a body bag in a cooling compartment here
at the morgue, and after some time had passed, and
they still couldn't work this out, we had to move
him to the freezer. Certain things happen to a body
as time passes.
"I just didn't understand it. He was being treated
like a couch or something -- like a piece of furniture
that people are fighting over in a divorce. What's
the purpose? Why would they do this to him?"
The case was assigned to Franklin County Probate
Court Judge Lawrence A. Belskis. "You would not
expect parents to ask a court to decide such a
thing," Judge Belskis told us. "I encouraged them to
work this out, but they didn't."
Time was passing. Judge Belskis had dealt before
with issues of disinterment -- of digging up a body
that had already been buried -- but he had never
been asked to decide on the issue of interment -- of
"I think that at all costs you would want to avoid
something like this," he said. "Why would any
parent want this? Why would a parent not want his
or her child to be afforded a little dignity -- why
would a parent rob the child of even this?"
But, as in life, P.J. Bourgeois was not permitted to
have that dignity. In due course, Judge Belskis
ruled: P.J. would have a memorial service in Ohio
(a service his killer, Patrick Bourgeois, would be
allowed out of jail to attend), and then would be
transported to Pennsylvania for burial.
So five months after the child had arrived at the
Franklin County morgue, he was at last allowed to
leave. A man named Tim Moriarty, an employee of
a funeral home, drove up to the morgue and signed
a receipt for P.J., and he was removed from the
freezer and taken away.
Meanwhile, his killers were moving closer to what
was supposed to be their trial date. Tomorrow, we
will report what
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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