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Investigators seek to identify human remains found in storage units

State officials loaded evidence into a vehicle from a Weymouth storage facility on Thursday.

Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

State officials loaded evidence into a vehicle from a Weymouth storage facility on Thursday.

When her granddaughter died three years ago, April Hopkins asked Joseph V. O’Donnell, a funeral home director in Dorchester, to cremate the baby’s remains. Hopkins contacted him again the next year, when her son and mother died just a few months apart.

On Friday, Hopkins came from her home in Randolph to Dorchester Municipal Court, alarmed by news reports that investigators had discovered 12 bodies and dozens of cremated remains in two storage facilities O’Donnell had rented.

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“I’m devastated,” she said. “I put a lot of trust in the man. Now I don’t know if the remains I have are the right ones. Is one of those bodies my mother? Is one of those bodies my son?”

Authorities made the grisly discoveries this week as part of an investigation into O’Donnell, 55, who is in custody for allegedly stealing $12,000 in funeral expenses from an elderly Quincy couple.

On Wednesday, investigators found more than 40 sets of cremated remains in a storage facility in Somerville, and on Thursday, they recovered a dozen adult bodies from a similar unit in Weymouth.

Investigators have sent the remains to the medical examiner’s office and will seek to identify the bodies. The cremated remains were labeled and can be traced to documents.

“We’re confident we’ll be able to confirm the identity of each of those cremated remains,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

The deaths do not appear suspicious, Wark said. O’Donnell has not been charged in connection to the unburied remains.

Many funeral homes hold unclaimed cremated remains that are left behind by loved ones.

The investigation began earlier this year when state regulators informed authorities that they suspected that O’Donnell had been making funeral arrangements without a license; his lapsed in 2008. O’Donnell was the director of O’Donnell and Mulry Funeral Home on Neponset Avenue.

In March, the Quincy couple told Boston police they had paid O’Donnell more than $12,000 in 2011 for future expenses at his funeral home.

But when they contacted him earlier this year to make arrangements for their daughter, they learned that the funeral home was no longer in business. O’Donnell told them he would return their money, but never did, according to court documents.

A few weeks later, the couple tried to contact him through another funeral home where he had worked, but the director said no one had heard from him recently. O’Donnell was arrested April 10 and remains in custody on $10,000 bail.

At a brief court hearing in the larceny case Friday, Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Walsh said O’Donnell was now the target of a “substantial investigation.”

The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29.

O’Donnell’s lawyer, Paul Tomasetti, could not be reached for comment.

Outside the courtroom, Dahria Williams-Fernandes, a funeral director in Dorchester, said she was stunned by the charges.

“It’s astonishing to me,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to protect the deceased entrusted to our care.”

Authorities said there is no evidence of other missing remains, but Williams-Fernandes said the discoveries are deeply unsettling.

“At this point, we don’t know how deep this goes,” she said.

More coverage:

Human remains found in storage facilities

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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