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June 7, 2024 45 mins

Death is one of humanity's great unifiers. Before the dawn of recorded history our species and others like it venerated, feared and honored the dead. The practice of commemorating our loved ones continues today -- and it's become a big business. Join the guys as they delve deeper into the fact, fiction and controversy of the funeral industry to determine whether or not a secret monopoly is at play.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Filo conspiracy realist. This classic episode is important, it is personal,
and it touches on one of the unfortunately universal experiences
of all living things.

Speaker 2 (00:13):
Death. Yeah, spoiler, Yeah, that's the end of this reality, right,
this plane of existence? But hey man, who says it's
the end? Is it just the beginning?

Speaker 1 (00:29):
Come on, and what happens when this is the thing
that I know got us we're creating this episode. What
happens at one of the most terrifying parts of your life.
A loved one passes away, and now, in addition to grieving,
you have to do all these other things. You have

(00:50):
to file paperwork, you have to have a funeral, you
have to hopefully trust the people and the professionals that
are going to help you with that, and.

Speaker 2 (01:00):
You gotta come up with a whole bunch of money
to make it happen.

Speaker 3 (01:06):
From UFOs to psychic powers and government conspiracies, history is
riddled with unexplained events. You can turn back now or
learn this stuff they don't want you to know.

Speaker 2 (01:30):
Hello, welcome back to the show. My name is Matt,
my name is Nolan.

Speaker 1 (01:33):
They call me Ben. We are joined with our super
producer Paul Mission controlled decant most importantly, you are you,
and you are for now here, and that makes this
stuff they don't want you to know. Fun fact, everybody
in the studio today, as far as we know, is alive.
But we're gonna die eventually, a lot of us.

Speaker 4 (01:54):
He started it with a glass half full scenario, Ben,
and then Matt, you made it a glass half empty.

Speaker 1 (01:59):
Well, you know, there's some hope at the end of
the tunnel. But maybe that's a show for a different day.

Speaker 2 (02:06):
If you think it's just the nature of the glass,
it's really it was made, but it's gonna die.

Speaker 1 (02:11):
Sure so right now, with maybe one notable technical exception,
dying is still the great equalizer. Dying is, for many
of us listening inevitable, and here in the United States,
dying is quite expensive. It's a burden that your loved ones,

(02:33):
when they survive your demise, will often end up bearing themselves.
As of twenty eighteen, the average funeral costs between seven
thousand and ten thousand dollars. And that doesn't include everything, right,
That includes some stuff, but like you know, it includes
a viewing, burial, and balming. Hearse service transfer of remains

(02:54):
a service fee, because everything has a service fee. Nowadays,
but it doesn't include other things. It's like, awake, that's
on you, Flowers that's on you. A million other things
are on you. And typically when people are in this situation,
it's one of the worst moments or periods of time
in their life, you know what I mean.

Speaker 2 (03:14):
Yeah, the grief associated with that moment causes a lot
of these other things to be a little more acceptable unfortunately.

Speaker 4 (03:22):
Yeah, it's almost like you want to do right by
your deceased loved one, and surely that means forking out
a bunch of money for an ostentatious casket, right.

Speaker 2 (03:34):
And.

Speaker 1 (03:36):
Often survivors fall prey to unscrupulous business practices. And it
is a big business indeed, Given that everyone except where
Henrietta Lax has so far died and Henrietta Lax is
only technically kind of alive, this industry is an incredibly
reliable source of income for people in every strata of

(03:57):
the business. And given the incredibly, incredibly sensitive nature of
this situation, it's no surprise that aspects of the funeral
industry often come under fire. But this leads us to
today's question, how much of this criticism is alarmist? How
much of it is warranted, and ultimately, is the funeral

(04:18):
industry crooked or corrupt?

Speaker 2 (04:20):
The old funeral industrial complex?

Speaker 4 (04:24):
Yeah, Kroner, remember Kroner from the sixteen under. They were
like big funeral and they were pushing down the little
mom and pops like.

Speaker 1 (04:32):
You know, the fishers, buying them out.

Speaker 4 (04:34):
Buying the mout left and right.

Speaker 2 (04:36):
Yeah, is industrial burial complex? Better? Just spitballing here?

Speaker 1 (04:41):
I like funeral industrial I don't know, man, vote, how
about you help us out? Listeners? What was the first
one funeral industrial complex and the second one.

Speaker 2 (04:50):
Was burial industrial complex? I don't know. That's not as good.
I like funeral. Let's go with funeral.

Speaker 1 (04:56):
I like big death, but that's probably some that's really good,
really insufferable AKA musician's name, you know, de Eth?

Speaker 2 (05:07):
Yeah?

Speaker 1 (05:07):
Right, So what are what are the facts? Let's start there.
Not only is it going to cost between seven to
ten thousand dollars on average just to bury someone, but
that number indicates an increase, right, a trend.

Speaker 2 (05:24):
Yeah. Between two thousand and four and twenty fourteen, the
median cost of an adult funeral increased twenty eight point
six percent from five thousand, five hundred and eighty two
dollars to seven thousand, one hundred and eighty one dollars.
So that's over a ten year period, twenty eight almost
thirty percent increase. That's pretty intense. And that's according to

(05:44):
the National Funeral Directors Association or NIFTAH Yeah, NIFTA, NYFTE
nift And that almost thirty percent might seem like a
hugely steep rate of increase, but between nineteen eighty and
nineteen eighty nine, just nine years, the average funeral costs
rose by eighty seven percent, a lot of eighties in

(06:05):
those numbers there.

Speaker 1 (06:06):
It's true, and it sounds it sounds quite precipitous, right,
But what does that include? So let's say you pay
slightly higher than average price for a funeral, what do
you get for all that?

Speaker 4 (06:21):
Well, let's break it down for you. A nominal fifteen
hundred dollars feet goes to the funeral director and the
services that they provide. Casket cost approximately twenty three hundred dollars.
But of course you can upgrade, you can pimp your
casket embalming. I think that's probably pretty standard five hundred dollars,
which seems reasonable to me. A lot of work that
goes into that process and a lot of expertise. Cost

(06:43):
for using the funeral home, which is more of like
an event services kind of thing, five hundred bucks. I
would think that that would be less than the embalming.

Speaker 2 (06:52):
See I thought it was going to be more.

Speaker 1 (06:54):
Yeah. Really well, Also we have to keep in mind
these prices can vary depending on the home.

Speaker 4 (07:00):
You go to, course not for Then you've got the
cost of a grave site, which is one thousand dollars.

Speaker 1 (07:05):
I thought that was on the low side.

Speaker 4 (07:07):
It does seem on the low side. Is that Does
that mean that's like the you own that land or
are you renting it?

Speaker 2 (07:11):
Are you?

Speaker 4 (07:11):
How does that work?

Speaker 2 (07:12):
Upkeep? Baby, it's just upkeep.

Speaker 4 (07:14):
You got to pay, so you have to buy the
land the plot first. This isn't even for the plot.
This is just the upkeep. Uh.

Speaker 2 (07:21):
There's probably two costs of.

Speaker 1 (07:24):
That's the that would be the initial cost.

Speaker 4 (07:26):
Yeah, that's right. Then you've got the the old grave
diggers fee that's six hundred. Then you know that's a
deep hole that's worth that. You know that's a lot
of work. Then you've got the cost of a grave
liner or outer burial container. So it's a casket for
your casket, yeah, which which is brand a real thing
that typically yeah.

Speaker 2 (07:47):
Very odd had no idea that this was real, didn't either,
and I assume it would.

Speaker 4 (07:51):
It would be to keep the casket in pristine condition.
So how would you get into that if you were,
let's say, a grave robber, how would you crack into
that outer? Is it like something that has a lid
as well?

Speaker 1 (08:01):
Yeah, it's pretty inconvenient. You would have to break a
seal part of it. Part of it also is meant
to contain the dangerous chemicals in a corpse. Yeah, if
it's been embalmed. And you said that that was one
thousand bucks, right, a cool grand.

Speaker 4 (08:17):
And then you've got the headstone, which is fifteen hundred.
Because that's a piece of custom masonry, right, you got
to have someone that can carve it by hand. I
gotta wonder. Do you think there are mass like factory
produced gravestones that are a little cheaper.

Speaker 1 (08:31):
Yes, you see, Yeah, those would often be the things
that have more like a plaque sort of situation, and
they're embedded into the ground, but they don't stand up.
In this example, which is a wonderful example, the total
cost would approximate about nine thousand dollars. And again that's
just for the main items. There could be additional charges

(08:54):
for dozens of things. Placing the obituary in the newspaper
that's not free, buying the flower that's not free.

Speaker 4 (09:01):
And just for comparison, the cost of at least in
my experience, when I owned a house, putting a brand
new roof, like stripping off the old roof, putting on
a whole new roof with good material, about ten thousand
dollars and that's supposed to last you ten to twenty years. Wow,
So this is like I don't know, I just but
this is forever. Yeah, but I don't know. There's a
lot of very magical thinking that goes into this whole process.

Speaker 1 (09:23):
Well, also, there's not a situation with the roof salesman
where they say, think about what your dead relatives would want.

Speaker 2 (09:29):
That's right.

Speaker 1 (09:30):
You know that changes the equation, It really does. So
let's look at another thing on the rise. I hesitate
to call it a hot trend. Cremation. According to NIFTA,
the median cost of a funeral with cremation is a
little bit cheaper at six thousand and seventy eight dollars
that's fifteen percent cheaper than the median cost of a

(09:51):
funeral with a burial. Some sources will put the average
cost of a cremation even lower. They'll say you can
find a deal for two thousand to four thousand dollars,
but that is still a lot of money for the
average person.

Speaker 4 (10:04):
I think I may have said this on the episode
we just did, the two parter are on secret burial
sites and lost bodies. My father was cremated, and they
also can up charge you on that because they try
to make you buy a fancier receptacle.

Speaker 1 (10:18):
They call it a what do they call it an urn?

Speaker 4 (10:20):
An urn, but there's a name of a vessel.

Speaker 1 (10:22):
They call it a vessel.

Speaker 4 (10:23):
That's the funeral speak. And I think we went with something.
We literally got it in like a I mean, don't
judge me here. We got it like in a plastic
box and with it in like a bag inside of it.
And I still have some of that, it's in my closet.
That's that's a little dark.

Speaker 1 (10:37):
I'm sorry, No, you should be sorry.

Speaker 2 (10:39):
It's nice.

Speaker 1 (10:40):
Actually yeah, but let's let's also remember that this we're
looking at the average price for a one and done
kind of thing. But almost one point eight million people
are buried every year in this country alone. That amounts
to a fifteen billion a year industry. And we have

(11:00):
some interesting comparisons about what that means with the modern burials,
not green burial or cremation.

Speaker 2 (11:09):
So there's enough embalming fluid that gets buried every year
to fill eight Olympic size pools. M there is more
steel used in caskets alone than was used to build
the Golden Gate Bridge every year. We're talking on a
yearly basis here, and enough reinforced concrete to construct a

(11:30):
two lane highway from New York City to Detroit.

Speaker 1 (11:34):
Yeah, boggles the mind. That's every year. And also, you know,
just to be very very clear here, we're not being
glib or disrespectful to those who have passed on. This
industry has problems, right, And I love that we got
to the six feet under example, because that's one of

(11:55):
the big plots of the show. What was it started
with a sea? What was the name of the Boner,
so Kroner. This isn't spoiling six feet under, which is,
however many years old. Now this is not important to
the character development of the show, but it does paint
this alarming picture. It makes us think maybe of other
industries wherein monopolies have taken over, right, maybe something like

(12:21):
Amazon now, or maybe Walmart with supermarkets yeah.

Speaker 4 (12:24):
Or like internet service providers.

Speaker 1 (12:26):
Yeah ect I was thinking the same thing right. Luckily,
if you're an opponent of trust and monopolies, you will
be glad to learn that in the United States, at
least for now, most of the nineteen five hundred or
so funeral homes in the country are still small, mom
and pop, family owned, family owned operations that have been

(12:50):
in the family for multiple generations. For now, at least,
We'll be back after a word from our sponsor. Here's
where it gets crazy.

Speaker 2 (13:05):
Don't even let yourself be fooled by this idea that
these small funeral homes are gonna be there forever. McDonald
AND's sons and all the other ones. Big business wants
a piece of this pie. They want this industry in
their grasp, and large companies have been making some serious inroads.
Here are some of the biggest companies that control currently

(13:26):
the death industry, Big.

Speaker 1 (13:28):
Death, oh Man or the funeral funereal industrial companies. Oh
I like that funeral different, Walmart, Walmart might not be
a big surprise. Walmart sells a ton of stuff. They're
the world's largest retailer brick and mortar. At least they
helped begin the trend of selling low priced caskets online.

Speaker 4 (13:50):
Wait do they still do this?

Speaker 1 (13:52):
Yeah? I believe so. Really Yep, there's a The name
seems kind of ghosh, But one they came out with
was nine hundred ninety five dollars casket called the Dad
Remembered Steel Casket with eighteen gage steel high gloss silver
blue finish. That model may not be around anymore, but
they are still selling caskets.

Speaker 2 (14:13):
I just found it at Sky Caskets.

Speaker 4 (14:15):
I have found it on walmart dot com. This one's
called funeral casket. It's called the Briar Rose.

Speaker 2 (14:22):
Oh.

Speaker 1 (14:23):
I just feel like Dad Remembered is a terrible name.

Speaker 2 (14:27):
I read it as Dad remembered steel, like Dad remembers
his steel, he knows.

Speaker 1 (14:33):
I read it kind of as Dad Comma remembered.

Speaker 2 (14:35):
Yes not, that's that's what it should be. But there's
no punctuation.

Speaker 1 (14:39):
I feel like for that much, for that much money,
there should be some proof reading involved.

Speaker 4 (14:45):
Why am I so blown away that I was just
able to pull up like a catalog page on Walmart
with like browsing caskets. It never occurred to me that
you can buy caskets from Walmart.

Speaker 2 (14:53):
How about overstock dot com?

Speaker 1 (14:55):
Yep, Walmart's taking his share of the death care industry
away from those traditional manufacturers and funeral homes. And according
to the various trade groups in the casket industry, the
impact of these brick and mortar stores is still kind

(15:15):
of small, but it's definitely growing.

Speaker 2 (15:19):
It's good that it's there.

Speaker 1 (15:20):
I guess, well, that's what a lot of people say
about Amazon.

Speaker 2 (15:26):
Yep, Amazon, enter you Amazon, old Bezos.

Speaker 1 (15:33):
He's uh old Bezos.

Speaker 2 (15:35):
Old Bezos.

Speaker 1 (15:36):
It sounds like he hunts a gigantic white whale.

Speaker 4 (15:38):
It sounds it also sounds like some kind of thing
you'd put in a soup.

Speaker 2 (15:43):
Just hit it with a dash of that Bezos old
Bezos basil.

Speaker 4 (15:47):
It's like creole wow.

Speaker 2 (15:49):
Okay. So Amazon has this thing it's called revenue, and
they've got seven point six billion of it. Uh that's
in US dollars. And it's often said that you know
they sell everything. Well, guess what if Walmart sells caskets,
you gotta believe Amazon's all over there.

Speaker 4 (16:04):
No, I just searched. I couldn't find any. You're kidding me,
I'm not kidding you caskets. I found a lot of movies.
That's one called Help, I'm Possessed, The Closer, the complete
third season, and of course Six Feet Under season's one
through completion. But no, I can't buy I don't see
any Amazon caskets.

Speaker 2 (16:22):
My man, it would be fun to watch a group
of drones trying to deliver one of them.

Speaker 4 (16:26):
You know what else? Amazon doesn't sell sex toys? WHOA, yeah,
they they they've got they've got their their boundaries.

Speaker 2 (16:33):
All right. You got to go to Adam and Eve
dot com for that.

Speaker 4 (16:37):
Not brought to you by Adam and Eve.

Speaker 1 (16:39):
It looks like now they've they've taken those off the
market and they just have pet caskets, oh, which I
imagine was somewhat less offensive maybe or somewhat less problematic
from a shipping standpoint. That's probably the closer answer.

Speaker 2 (16:55):
Didn't they have some kind of I don't know, agreement
with another company or something. Maybe that's why they were
temporarily selling them.

Speaker 1 (17:03):
They used to sell more than fifty different varieties of
caskets or coffins and they sold a steel embalming table,
they sold pet eurns and oh yeah yeah, they had
a partnership with Best Price Caskets dot Com.

Speaker 4 (17:17):
And then it went south.

Speaker 1 (17:19):
Must I guess that deal is pushing up daisies.

Speaker 4 (17:26):
Pet caskets are pretty posh. This one's called Pause Rest
Premium pet casket Comma small. How much is it about
three eighty nine?

Speaker 2 (17:33):
Wow?

Speaker 1 (17:35):
Which you know, again, when a pet passes, it's still
in many cases just as damaging.

Speaker 4 (17:41):
Is I love that absolutely Again, For some reason, the
idea of a pet casket I find comical.

Speaker 2 (17:49):
My cousin. My cousin has the most tasteful burial plots
for her cats. It is incredible it. If anyone would
ever spend that much care on me, I die, I
would be. I mean, I wouldn't be, but I think
everybody else would be really happy about it and moved
by it. Yeah, it's incredible. She cares. She loves those

(18:10):
cats so much so that she like makes these beautiful
almost it's almost like I don't even know how to
describe it. It's it's almost like having a tribute landscaping and.

Speaker 4 (18:23):
Beautiful that is levely and in your backyard. I mean,
I'm all about that. That's a place you can, you know,
wander through and go and visit. And I mean, I
I have no problem with the idea of burial of
humans of loved ones at all. The part that I
get hung up on is the exorbitant cost and the whole,
you know, Because I was gonna mention off Mike that
I had heard a piece on Hidden Brain actually where

(18:45):
I was talking about lifestyle choices and the idea of
being an influencer and this, that and the other, and
one of the segments was about funerals, and I said
out loud to my girlfriend, I said, I bet poor
people spend more money on funerals than rich people. And
that's exactly what the stat was, on average, on average
in this country.

Speaker 1 (19:05):
Well. Also, there's a privatized insurance industry that springs up
around this, and the same things that occur in medical
billing occur in the in the in the funeral industry,
paying for it forever. A lot of the major players
in this industry also have very very innocuous names. Carriage

(19:27):
Services Incorporated. Does it sound like the maybe the company
that has the horse drawn carriages in downtown.

Speaker 2 (19:34):
Areas Exactly what I was thinking.

Speaker 1 (19:36):
Does it sound like maybe they repair transmissions or something
in fleets of commercial vehicles.

Speaker 2 (19:44):
No.

Speaker 1 (19:44):
In twenty eleven, they were the fourth largest publicly traded
entity in the death care industry. They operate. As of
that time, they operated one hundred and forty seven funeral
homes in twenty five states, thirty three cemeteries in twelve states.
They make a lot of money in what are called
pre funded funeral and burial services. This is where you

(20:07):
plan ahead. Let's say ten thousand a pop is too much,
but you kind of put your death ritual on layaway.
It's called like.

Speaker 4 (20:14):
Pre need pre need, that is what they call it
in Six Feet Under. I know all these terms from
watching that show. The pre need.

Speaker 2 (20:20):
Wow, I mean, I guess that's smart.

Speaker 4 (20:22):
You do it in advance. Yeah, they don't have to
worry about it. It's almost like doing a living will
or something like that. Right.

Speaker 2 (20:28):
Yeah. Can I tell you guys a quick quick story please.
So it's no secret my wife's family is not that
well off, but they have lots and lots of family
in there. They're just wonderful, awesome they have they have
wonderful communities like connection. I guess right. So when my
wife's grandfather died, all of these people showed up, almost

(20:52):
every single person showed up with a roll of cash
and just handed it to my wife's grandmother and they
were all paying for the funeral. In that moment with cash,
everybody together is amazing. And that's another part of the
hidden brain stap. The reason that people typically with less
money spend more on funerals is because it becomes this
community thing. Yeah, whereas rich people it's a much more segmented,

(21:14):
small affair they might just do because you know, they
don't They're not bringing people in from far and wide
for this funeral. It's much more of a they like
their privacy or whatever. Whereas people with less money they
make it an event where the family comes in from
all over and it's an excuse to get everyone back
together again, you know.

Speaker 1 (21:30):
Again specifically in the US, right, absolutely, absolutely. So it's
interesting too because a lot of families that come from
generational wealth, which happens quite often here in the States,
a lot of those families will already have dedicated, older plots,
so they actually may have fewer upfront costs. It's expensive,

(21:51):
it's expensive to be impoverished in this country. Right, there's
another company called Hill and Brand Incorporated. I like, I
if we're just making up things based on the name,
I would like to think that they sell those gift
baskets with summer sausage and different cheeses and maybe a
little bit of chocolate if.

Speaker 4 (22:11):
You upsell Pepperidge Farm remembers.

Speaker 1 (22:15):
But unlike Pepperidge Farm, Hill and Brand sells forty five
percent of all the caskets in the US, or they
did as of twenty eleven. They sell more than eight
hundred thousand and the one point eight million sold each year.
They also sell cremation containers, vessels, earns, and they sell
all these products, though not under Hill and Brand. They

(22:37):
sell it under Batesville Casket Company brand. It kind of
how that brand was founded in nineteen oh six. It's
similar to how a few food manufacturers may make a
ton of stuff and some of its build is organic
and some of it. It's kind of like how McDonald's
owns Chipotle, if we're.

Speaker 2 (22:55):
Being honest totally, you know what I mean.

Speaker 1 (22:58):
And in recent years, Hill and Brand has become an
entity that makes more of its money off of manufacturing
non death related things. So they got a boost from that,
and they're expanding out. It's you know, capitalism Vegas baby.

Speaker 2 (23:12):
Yeah, you know what I mean. You gotta get in
there while you can with these companies. And also, you know,
you do what you can to represent your company in
a the best way, best forward facing way.

Speaker 1 (23:22):
Right now, if there were one company that would be
named as a monopoly in this unfortunate industry, if there
were one company that would closely resemble the big corporate
bad of six feet under fame, it would be something
with the name Service Corporation International. What does that mean?

(23:46):
We'll tell you after a word from our sponsor.

Speaker 2 (23:55):
So let's talk about that name. Service Corporation International.

Speaker 1 (23:58):
Could literally be any thing that happens internationally.

Speaker 2 (24:03):
Yeah, that is a service and not a specific good necessarily. Well,
let's just say this Service Corporation Internationally deals with death
and that's how they make their money death.

Speaker 1 (24:17):
Yes, it is entirely a company making money off of
those services. It was founded in nineteen sixty two by
a guy named Robert L. Waltrip. He grew up in
the funeral business. He was from one of those mom
and pop outfits. As of twenty seventeen, this company owned
oney four hundred and eighty eight funeral homes and four

(24:38):
hundred and seventy three cemeteries across the US and Canada.
It makes them the largest funeral and cemetery services company
in the entire world. They also own facilities in eight
European countries England, France, Germany, and additionally they conduct business
in Singapore. They provide services like embalming, burial cremation, prearranged

(25:03):
or pre need funeral packages.

Speaker 2 (25:05):
Yeah, their products cover every aspect of the funeral everything
we were talking about, caskets, burial balls, flowers, cremation, funeral options,
burial garments, and as of twenty eighteen, it's estimated that
their share of all just the total funeral and cemetery
market in North America is fifteen percent. Now, that doesn't
sound that high, ben fifteen percent.

Speaker 1 (25:27):
It doesn't, does it.

Speaker 2 (25:28):
It really doesn't. And why is that?

Speaker 1 (25:32):
Well, you see SCI keeps growing, Matt as we're recording this,
And there's something that Service Corporation International does not want
you or your loved ones to know. This company is
largely made up of other small businesses. Overwhelmingly the funeral

(25:52):
homes that are SCI. Funeral homes are things that it
acquired from these smaller outfits, these mom and pop things,
and they didn't want these homes to be less profitable,
so they didn't want them to seem like some giant,
faceless funeral corporation, right, So instead they take over relatively
in secret, and the mom and pop businesses keep their

(26:16):
name on the things, so it's still like Paul Decant
and Cousins Funeral Home or whatever.

Speaker 4 (26:22):
This is literally the plot of six ft under, right, yeah,
because six f under is based off absolutely. Yeah, I
was not aware. This is really really fascinating. So it
makes sense. Yeah, because it's such a comfort industry. You know,
you don't want to feel like you're doing business with
like big death, right. You want to feel like you're
doing business with someone who understands your community and your

(26:43):
plight and is there for you as a as a
helping hand and a friendly.

Speaker 1 (26:46):
Face, and as their family has provided memorial services for
your family generations and generations back.

Speaker 4 (26:52):
Yeah.

Speaker 1 (26:53):
And also it makes sense that they would want to
grow in this way because they already have a lot
of the economy of scale at work.

Speaker 2 (27:02):
Right.

Speaker 1 (27:02):
They're they're getting I'm sure, massive discounts on different supplies
they run a couple of logistics chains. So a typical
funeral home that is owned by SCI will not contain
any advertisements or any logos for SCI, with the exception
perhaps of one thing, a little employee pin on the

(27:23):
on the lapel of people who work there. Interesting.

Speaker 2 (27:27):
I think I've seen this before, but I'm I can't.
I looked at a picture of one of one of
the lapels that actually has it on there, and it
looks so familiar. Now I'm I'm questioning how many of
these funeral homes I've been to. I've been to that
many funerals, but I've been in a share and I
think I've seen it. Here's me out.

Speaker 4 (27:48):
But here's a question, though, Why why? Why is this
so disturbing? It's business. It makes sense. It benefits the
mom and pops theoretically, theoretically they get to keep doing
this and being where they always have been. Is it
insidious just because it's this kind of the nature of
the industry makes us feel like it's gross to make

(28:09):
money anyway? But aren't the mom and pops already doing that? Ah?

Speaker 1 (28:13):
Yes, excellent foreshadowing. Let's let's walk down this rabbit hole
a little bit further. So SCI does have one thing
that you can easily use to discern them. They place
emphasis on a number of different brands. One is Dignity Memorial,
and the Dignity logo can be seen on their homes

(28:34):
and their funeral homes and in cemeteries and paperwork and
so on. They have other brands too, but that's one
of the most popular ones. And right now SCI has
not consumed the entire industry by any means, but its
recent acquisitions have observers concerned. The FTC is getting involved,
which is something I didn't think happened in the funeral industry,

(28:55):
or I just never thought about it. In two thousand
and six, they wanted to merge with something called the
alder Woods Group, its nearest competitor, and the FTC said,
this is going to create a monopoly, this is going
to break antitrust laws. Eventually they allowed the merger to continue,
which you know, was a huge boon to SCI's growth.

(29:17):
They tried to purchase an outfit called Keystone North America
for two hundred and eight million in two thousand and nine,
and they got they got it. It slid through somehow.
These guys have a lot of a lot of grease,
as we're going to find out too. They have a
lot of juice, you would call it on the streets.
In May twenty thirteen, they signed another deal, one point
four billion dollar deal to purchase Stuart Enterprises, the second

(29:40):
largest what they call deathcare company, and the FTC this
in this acquisition said Okay, we're keeping an eye on you.
You can do this, but there need to be some
rules in place. So here's where we get to your question.
Oh sure, yeah, the company's penchant for pretending to be
a local shop is miss but what's the big deal?

(30:01):
What gives It's not illegal to do that? And if
that's all the company is doing, then we could say,
we could argue, if we're going to be a little
bit cold about it, that it does not particularly matter
how we feel about the practice itself, so long as
the locations still offer the same services. The people who
got bought out often still work there as management. Their
jobs don't change. They just become a franchise. For lack

(30:25):
of a better term, However, that's not the case. As
it grows, SCIS become the subject of more and more controversy.
One of the things is cost This company is known
for having slashed its overhead and raised prices dramatically, in

(30:45):
some cases, much higher than independent funeral home operators, which,
when you think about it, is the opposite of what
you might expect, because usually the way that Walmart's will
drive out small businesses will be to operate at a
loss for months or you know, years in certain departments
so that the smaller places can't compete. These guys are

(31:08):
doing the opposite. There's an issue of Bloomberg Business Week
that was published in October twenty fourth, twenty thirteen, where
a guy named Paul M.

Speaker 4 (31:18):
Barrett.

Speaker 1 (31:18):
I say, a guy, a journalist named Paul EM Barrett
quoted different different stats and he found that at the time,
SCI's on average charge was and fifty six bucks without
the plot and without the casket, just the other stuff.

Speaker 2 (31:42):
That seems like a lot.

Speaker 1 (31:44):
It is it is a lot.

Speaker 4 (31:45):
Is that because they have an effective monopoly and so
they can basically fix their own prices and there's no
competition anymore.

Speaker 1 (31:51):
Is that the issue here in some areas that very
well could be. I mean, that's almost fifty percent higher
than the real mom and pop shops.

Speaker 2 (31:59):
Right, geez? And uh, lest we forget that's bad enough, Like,
just knowing that you're operating, you could be saving people
a lot of money on their funerals if you wanted to, maybe,
but you wouldn't have the prophecy you're getting. But what
about something called funeral gate?

Speaker 1 (32:18):
Yes, funeral gate? Have you heard of this? Have you
guys ever heard of this?

Speaker 4 (32:21):
Yes?

Speaker 1 (32:22):
Do you were familiar with this before? Right, Matt?

Speaker 2 (32:24):
Yes?

Speaker 1 (32:24):
Yes, Okay, this is this is weird and lack of
a better term, this is this is fascinating. Has to
plot twist that this is a controversy that occurred in Texas.
And according to Fox News, sci Service Corporation and International,
which was doing business as Dignity Memorial under a different

(32:45):
name and then under dozens of other different names. Right,
they were recycling graves. What does that mean?

Speaker 2 (32:51):
Yeah, they were taking the bodies they were originally like
meant to go in. They were throwing them in the
woods to use the space to house new customs. Two
Jewish cemeteries in Florida. So they're taking people out that
they were going to bury and just throwing them in
the woods.

Speaker 1 (33:09):
And there was a Texas official who was tasked with
watching over these sorts of behaviors or preventing these sorts
of behaviors and watching over the funeral business. Who alleged
that she was fired in retaliation for whistleblowing, and that
she was fired by the administration of then Governor George W. Bush.

(33:31):
George W. Bush had received campaign contributions from the Waltrip family,
the founders of Scirops, the Wall Troops. They are based
in Texas. It's not unusual to be loved by anyone
campaign finance wise, you know what I mean, Like a
it's not unusual to be bribed by anybody else. No,

(33:55):
I mean, I'm it's a bad joke, but it really
the truth of the matter is, you know, if you
are running for a position at that level of government,
a ton of large businesses are going to want to
donate to your campaign. That's just how it works here, right,
So that's not necessarily corrupt. But the person who said

(34:17):
they were ousted did say it was. They did allege corruption,
and they said that the governor had been essentially paid
off by the Waltrip family to make this scandal go away.
George W. Bush was subpoena to testify about this in
court in nineteen ninety nine, but he refused to do so,
and on August thirtieth, nineteen ninety nine, a Texas judge

(34:41):
ruled that he could not Bush that could not be
forced to testify. So it all sort of went away
for twenty years.

Speaker 2 (34:50):
Now, something happened around that year in nineteen ninety nine
where he became an even more powerful governor of sorts.
I can't remember what happened exactly.

Speaker 1 (34:59):
Right lead up to the election, Yeah, absolutely right, And
so people who alleged that there was some corruption there
will we'll see this as just one of many smoking guns, right,
and other people will say, well, meritless claims happen against

(35:19):
a state official all the time. Yeah, right, Like there's
probably some comptroller right now who is getting just they're
my favorite example, who is getting some sort of strange,
ludicrous lawsuit thrown at them. Right. So the question is
it really it depends on your personal take. But the
legal opinion was that he did not have to testify.

Speaker 2 (35:42):
Look, if you are a politician of any sort and
you're not getting bribes thrown at you left and right,
you're doing something wrong. And I'm not saying you're taking
those bribes. But if nobody wants to bribe you. I
don't know. That's a bad look.

Speaker 1 (35:56):
Did he ever do an episode about lobbying?

Speaker 2 (36:00):
We did videos about it.

Speaker 1 (36:03):
I don't think we have not an audio places the kind.

Speaker 4 (36:05):
Of thing where it figures into other topics. Maybe we
haven't a solo.

Speaker 1 (36:09):
Yacas because I think for all of us who are
listening from someplace outside of the United States, lobbying just sounds.

Speaker 2 (36:21):
Heinous.

Speaker 1 (36:22):
Yeah, heinous is a fantastic words. It seems counterintuitive, it
seems illegal. How is bribery illegal in this country? But
lobbying is fine? You know what I mean?

Speaker 2 (36:32):
Because semantics bro.

Speaker 1 (36:33):
We had to have talked about at some point anyhow.
So that's funeral gait, and that's that's one of the
controversies that hit SCI's reputation. But the people largely forgot
about as time went on. But they were active in
other states. In Virginia there was evidence of improper storage
of bodies and various states of decay. We're talking two

(36:57):
hundred something in makeshift gurneys in a just routing.

Speaker 2 (37:02):
Yeah, not a good look or smell.

Speaker 1 (37:05):
Well, what happened in Florida?

Speaker 2 (37:07):
Oh it's even better.

Speaker 4 (37:08):
Yeah, it's true. In two thousand and one, it was
reported that employees of the Memorial Gardens Cemetery near Fort
Lauderdale had oversold the cemetery, so bodies were buried in
the wrong places, separating husbands and wives. Vaults were cracked
open by a back hoe, bodies were exhumed with bone
skulls and shrouds thrown into the woods. Again, bodies were

(37:29):
stacked on top of each other, and remains were relocated
without notifying any of the relatives.

Speaker 1 (37:35):
Yeah, and this is a huge deal for anyone. This
is especially egregious and horrific thing for members of the
Jewish community because for more religiously observant families and customers,
traditional Jewish law requires bodies to be buried completely intact

(37:56):
and prohibits disturbing the dead. So SCI reached an agreement
with the Florida Attorney General's Office in two thousand and three,
and they said, we'll give you fourteen million dollars. We'll
repair the plots, reorganize the cemeteries, properly mark all the graves,
and the grounds will be able to accommodate all plots soulds,

(38:17):
so we'll stop over selling stuff. And then they had
to settle a separate class action lawsuit on behalf of
three hundred and fifty families for one hundred million dollars.

Speaker 2 (38:27):
That sounds about right. I'm surprised it's actually not more.

Speaker 1 (38:30):
Yeah, me too. And there's another Jewish cemetery that was
mishandled in California.

Speaker 2 (38:39):
Oh yeah, let's go back to September fourteenth, two thousand
and nine. There was this class action lawsuit. It was
filed against SCI in this place called Eden Memorial Park.
It was a Jewish cemetery managed by SCI in Mission Hills. Now,
this class action lawsuit charged that this group SI and
Memorial Park they were destroying graves to make room for

(39:02):
new internments. And in February twenty fourteen there was another settlement,
this time to the tune of eighty million dollars. Wow.
They are spending a lot of money on these lawsuits.

Speaker 1 (39:13):
Right, and this is only scratching the surface. This is
not a hit piece. You can check into each one
of these stories, and while you're checking you will find
other stories of similar situations, many of which have been
completely forgotten. Yeah right, you have to dig a little
to find them. Now, this may simply be a situation

(39:34):
where in a corporation as large as SCI because of
the way it acquires different smaller businesses. This may be
a situation where it's just not able to keep an
adequate eye on every single thing.

Speaker 2 (39:47):
Right, right, That seems like a valid argument to me.
I think that is, you know, you do have local
I guess the families. If it's still run by these groups,
they're there on the ground all the time.

Speaker 1 (40:00):
Right, and they're they're observing this stuff. So is there
is it valid to say that maybe these cases get
more attention because they're attached to s CI, which has deeper.

Speaker 2 (40:12):
Purse strings, or they all become associated as if they're
all happening by the same people, when in fact it's
all individual groups that are just under the same letterhead, essentially.

Speaker 1 (40:23):
Right, like the way Rome conquered different countries and empires.
I also want to want to point out I should
have said deeper pockets, deeper purse strings doesn't make sense.

Speaker 2 (40:35):
I don't know, I dig it.

Speaker 4 (40:38):
It was really longer.

Speaker 1 (40:40):
I can't remember the last time I saw a purse string.

Speaker 4 (40:43):
That's just the strap that goes over your shoulder.

Speaker 1 (40:45):
No, the strings are like the draw strings, right for
a pouch.

Speaker 4 (40:48):
You know what though some of them do, some of
those fancy ones that they're woven in. They've got little
eyelids and you know, you pull the thing on the
one side, cinches it right up.

Speaker 1 (40:55):
For a guy who doesn't own any purses, I'm somewhat
aware of this industry.

Speaker 2 (41:00):
You don't know any purses.

Speaker 4 (41:02):
I don't.

Speaker 1 (41:03):
I don't. I feel like I feel like it's a
weird thing.

Speaker 4 (41:06):
I feel, you know, back to what you said, Ben,
I feel like that's what a gentleman would have called
his purse his pouch. His purse is his pouch. Yes,
it's like an old timy leather gold bag.

Speaker 2 (41:15):
Sounds about right to me.

Speaker 1 (41:17):
I was I was somewhere. I think it was williams Berg,
and I saw I saw a guy walking with a
with a bendle, with a stick and bendle and some pouches.
Sometimes I don't know, I don't know where he's going.

Speaker 4 (41:31):
That bendle was probably full of certified deposits from his daddy.

Speaker 2 (41:35):
Oh see, In my opinion, you always need to have
a few pouches to put your reagents in there if
you're gonna cast in vos manny. I don't know, corpoor.
Maybe there are certain spells that you have to cast
that you really need to make sure your reagents are on.

Speaker 4 (41:49):
You don't know what you're talking about.

Speaker 1 (41:50):
I'm just gonna just let it right out, Okay, cool
dig it.

Speaker 2 (41:53):
Yeah, I would say, uh, voss flamm this is very important.
Voss costs a significant number of reagents. And you need
the Maana too.

Speaker 4 (42:04):
You gotta costs damn.

Speaker 2 (42:06):
Yeah, that's what I'm saying. And also if like you're saying,
if you know have your bendle, then that has all
the manipotions. And how the heck are you going to
continue to cast all the spells. I mean, you can't
paralyze everybody.

Speaker 4 (42:16):
That has been our show. These are the real shows.
I'd like to thank well. It would have been funny though,
if we've done credits and that just continued. Yeah, doing
this nerd talk, which I love.

Speaker 1 (42:28):
What is that from?

Speaker 2 (42:29):
That's all ultimate online?

Speaker 1 (42:30):
Okay. I didn't know if you were just winging it,
but that was great, man, that was great.

Speaker 4 (42:34):
Let's go.

Speaker 1 (42:35):
You know what, I know, when your birthday is you
might end up with some batches.

Speaker 2 (42:40):
Yes, Oh my god.

Speaker 1 (42:41):
Why did that feel like a threat in my head?

Speaker 2 (42:43):
Anyway?

Speaker 1 (42:44):
So, so here we are you know, we I think
we're being very fair to s ci when we're saying
these are the these are the things that could be
arguments made in their defense. But when we go to
the question of what happens now, we see some scary
stuff ahead. At least here in the United States, an
aging population and a lower birth rate point towards some

(43:07):
disturbing trends. According to the US Census, older adults will
outnumber children for the first time in this country's history
by twenty thirty five, and citizens over sixty five will
account for seventy eight million of the population. Children under
eighteen will account for seventy six point four million. The
baby boomer generation is one of the largest generations in

(43:27):
our country. We're not seeing a burst in population. We're
seeing people have fewer children than maybe boomers, which means
that a lot of people are going to pass away
in a smaller frame of time. This means that this
business will boom or the growth will continue, and the

(43:50):
next time you find yourself dealing with the loss of
a loved win or a need to engage the services
of a funeral home or memorial home, you have to
ask yourself who really owns it, and is that information
something they don't want you to know. We didn't even
get into the unscrupulous sales tactics. We talked about them. Yeah,
but that's that's something else I would There's a fantastic

(44:12):
Reddit thread where in a funeral director describes some of
the stuff that they do. And you know, if you
are listening and you are in this industry, please know
that we're not We're not saying one bad apple spoils
the bunch. We're just saying that this is something a
lot of people don't have too much experience with, thankfully, right, Yeah,

(44:32):
and one would hope that continues to be the case.
But you have to be aware that things are not
always what they appear to be in the strangest of places.

Speaker 2 (44:41):
Absolutely, And that's the end of this classic episode. If
you have any thoughts or questions about this episode, you
can get into contact with us in a number of
different ways. One of the best is to give us
a call. Our number is one eight three three STDWYTK.
If you don't want to do that, you can send
us a good old fashioned email.

Speaker 3 (45:03):
We are conspiracy at iHeartRadio dot com.

Speaker 2 (45:07):
Stuff they don't want you to know is a production
of iHeartRadio. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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