Demetra Street didn’t know, as she sang at her husband Ivan’s Baltimore funeral service in late January, that apparently he already had been buried days earlier and miles away. She had no idea, according to her lawyer, that the funeral urn supposedly bearing his ashes that day was empty, a fake designed to trick her into believing the funeral home had followed Ivan’s wishes to be cremated.
About the only thing real, according to a federal lawsuit, was that on Jan. 9, 2021, Baltimore resident Ivan T. Street died at the age of 67 from congestive heart failure, and that Demetra Street began making funeral plans. She arranged for him to be cremated by Wylie Funeral Homes, signed a contract, made payment and determined a memorial service would be held at the funeral home.
Around that time a second woman walked into Wylie Funeral Homes, also claiming to be Ivan Street’s wife, and seeking to make funeral arrangements. She even provided a 24-year-old, unofficial marriage certificate and arranged for him to be buried, according to a court filing.
Last week Demetra Street filed a federal lawsuit alleging a sweeping, concerted fraud by Wylie and its employees to ignore her wishes, hold two funeral services and collect two fees. The lawsuit alleges the funeral home followed the instructions of the second woman without verifying her story, and took that woman’s money to bury him at Mt. Zion Cemetery. Demetra Street said her husband wanted to be cremated.
After Ivan Street was buried, the funeral home held a “sham” cremation service for Demetra Street and kept her money, according to the lawsuit.
“Because Defendants concealed the Burial from Plaintiff [Demetra Street,] she was excluded from attending Ivan’s Burial, paying her last respects, and participating in a graveside service,” the lawsuit alleges.
Street is seeking $8.5 million, alleging breach of contract, negligence, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She said the entire affair left her depressed and that she was prescribed Zoloft to treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder.
In a statement, Wylie Funeral Home President Brandon Wylie denied Street’s claims. Wylie Funeral Homes operates locations in West Baltimore and in Baltimore County.
“Due to restrictions imposed by our confidentiality requirements and the existence of pending litigation, we are not at liberty to disclose all of the information relevant to this matter,” Wylie wrote. “However, we vehemently deny the claims advanced by Ms. Street and assert that the underlying matter was handled with the utmost sensitivity toward the loved ones of the deceased.”
The crux of the lawsuit revolves around the second woman, who claimed she married Ivan Street on Oct. 24, 1997, and how Wylie and its employees responded when Demetra Street made clear she was the real spouse.
According to the lawsuit, Street first paid the funeral home $2,500 to cremate her husband and host the memorial service, showing employees at the business’s Mount Street location her marriage license to prove they married on April 22, 2016.
Some time after, one of Wylie’s employees, Devin Conner, called Street to inform her about the other woman’s assertion, and to state that Wylie would bury Ivan as the other woman wanted. The funeral home said it would not comply with Demetra’s Street’s request, according to the lawsuit.
A few days later, Street again contacted the funeral home and was told a different story: That they would indeed cremate her husband’s body and host the memorial service the next day, on Jan. 23.
That service went on as planned. But the lawsuit says it was a fraud, alleging that a funeral home employee quickly removed the urn that was supposed to be housing Ivan Street’s remains once it was over. Wylie refused to let Street take home her husband’s ashes, the lawsuit alleges.
Only after did a member of the Wylie family tell her that Ivan Street had in fact been buried before that staged cremation, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit goes on to allege that the funeral home not only charged her $2,500 for the cremation and memorial service, but also charged the other woman an undisclosed amount of money for a casket, plot of land and burial services.
“Defendants conducted a sham Memorial Service by falsely, fraudulently, and maliciously misleading the plaintiff and others to believe that Ivan had been cremated and that his ashes were contained in the funerary urn that Defendants displayed at the Memorial Service,” the lawsuit reads.
Court records show that Demetra Street had filed for divorce from Ivan Street in 2018, but that was never finalized before his death. According to court documents, Street filed for divorce because “persistent conduct or cruel and vicious treatment toward me made the continuation of our marriage impossible,” adding that she believed Street was “not healthy for me or my younger kids.”
Alex Coffin, an attorney representing Demetra Street, said that while she had filed for divorce she “still had an incredibly close relationship with Ivan.”
“She sang at his funeral,” he added.