Michael Bickford, who worked part-time at Affordable Cremation Solution in Lewiston until it was shut down by the state last year, testifies Thursday at a civil trial against the business at Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn. Christopher Williams/Sun Journal

AUBURN — A worker at a Lewiston funeral home where a dozen rotting corpses were found piled in an unrefrigerated basement testified Thursday that he pleaded “many times” with the owner of the business to take action.

Michael Bickford said in Androscoggin County Superior Court that he even resorted to knocking on the door of Kenneth Kincer’s home when he failed repeatedly to return phone calls about growing problems at the Main Street funeral home Affordable Cremation Solution.

“What did you find when you arrived at his home?” asked Benjamin Gideon, attorney for the plaintiff in the lawsuit against the business.

“He was drunk,” Bickford said.

A sign on Kincer’s door directed any inquiries to his lawyer, Bickford said.

In 2021, how many days did you see Kincer working, Gideon asked.


“One, maybe two,” Bickford said.

The business effectively operated without a licensed funeral director in 2021, Gideon asked.

“Yes,” Bickford said.

“Was that a responsible thing to be doing, in your opinion?” Gideon asked.


Bickford said it was “very common” that customers would be unable to reach Kincer when calling the funeral home.


“I told people he was sick and kept coming up with excuses because I couldn’t tell them the truth,” Bickford said.

He said he told Kincer “lots of times” that his absence was a problem for the business.

“It was an ongoing battle,” he said.

Lawyer Benjamin Gideon talks Thursday to his client, Marielle Bischoff-Wurstle of Falmouth, who is suing Affordable Cremation Solution in Lewiston for mishandling her father’s body after he died last year. She is testifying in the civil trial at Androscoggin County Superior Court in Auburn. Christopher Williams

Only Kincer, as funeral director, was licensed to fill out the necessary paperwork permitting a cremation and only he could sign a death certificate.

Bickford and one other person were assistants who worked part-time at the home, but were not licensed funeral directors.

He was asked why he continued to pick up bodies, including that of Bruce Wurstle on May 30, 2021, when he knew they couldn’t be cremated.


“Because (Kincer) kept promising time after time, many times, that he was going to show up to work and take care of them,” Bickford said.

Bickford said he told Kincer they couldn’t keep picking up bodies if Kincer wasn’t going to be there to process them, saying he thought it was unethical to do that.

Kincer kept promising to come in and deal with them, Bickford said. But “it never happened. He never did manage to get to work.”

If Bickford refused to continue picking up the bodies, Kincer had told him, “he would find someone else” who would, Bickford said.

Kincer had told Bickford to tell customers the business had climate-controlled storage, but that wasn’t true, Bickford said, explaining the bodies were kept in a basement that stayed naturally cool, but not cold, and it wasn’t serviced by a mechanical cooling mechanism controlled by a thermostat.

When Bickford told Kincer about the odor emanating from the decomposing bodies during a June 2021 heat wave, Kincer told him to “open the windows.”


Kincer was called as a witness by Gideon, who represents Marielle Bischoff-Wurstle, 34, of Falmouth, whose father, Bruce, was picked up by Kincer’s business on May 30, 2021, and kept in the unrefrigerated basement for two weeks before it was seized by the state when the business was shut down by authorities.

Gideon quizzed Kincer about the funeral home’s customers, one by one, who had filed complaints with the state starting in February 2021.

Kincer was asked whether he remembered those customers.

He said he couldn’t recall them by name.

“There were so many people,” he said. “I can’t remember all of their names.”

He said he remembered responding to some of the complaints.


Some of the bodies had lain in his basement for weeks, some more than a month.

“That’s completely unacceptable, right?” Gideon asked.

“Completely, yes,” Kincer said.

In April, the Maine Board of Funeral Services filed a complaint against the Lewiston funeral home for its conduct. A notice was sent to Kincer by the administrator listing seven allegations of violations, including acceptance of payment for services that were not provided.

The complaints piled up along with the bodies Affordable Cremation Service continued to accept, but did not send off for cremation.

They were found stacked in piles when authorities seized them.


At the end of April 2021, the board sent another warning letter to Kincer cautioning him that his business may not operate if a funeral home licensee wasn’t there to sign paperwork.

“Correct,” Kincer said.

“At the time ACS picked up Bruce Wurstle, the company had been unable to perform its responsibilities to its customers for months, right?” Gideon asked.

“Yes, essentially it had,” Kincer said.

“My personal life spilled over into my professional life and things got messed up that never should have happened,” he said.

Before the state shut down the Lewiston business and suspended Kincer’s license, had the funeral director at a different home found the conditions at Kincer’s business “so abhorrent” that she notified the state and filed a complaint, Kincer was asked?


“That’s what I understand, yes,” Kincer said.

In other testimony Thursday, the second day of the civil trial, Bischoff-Wurstle took the stand.

Often breaking into sobs, she described how she learned from a link on Facebook to a TV newscast about the shuttering of the funeral home where her father was supposed to have been cremated, but a dozen bodies had been found decomposing in the basement.

“It was my worst nightmare,” she said.

Time seemed to stop and she didn’t know how to continue going about her normal routines, she said.

She had Googled what part of a dead body left unrefrigerated decomposes last, thinking she might have to identify his remains, which had been seized by the state, according to the newscast.


“But in my mind, I had this image that his face was missing and there were mice and maggots flying out of it,” she said.

The pleasant memories she had from having visited her father on the day he had died and appeared to be in peace, wrapped in a blanket flanked by stuffed animals, had been replaced by “horrifying” images of his body having decomposed or gone missing.

Defense lawyers sought to minimize the role Kincer’s business played in Bischoff-Wurstle’s inability to move through her grief over her father.

The jury watched videotaped footage of questioning by opposing attorneys of Dr. Lawrence Amsel, a trauma and grief psychiatrist who diagnosed Bischoff-Wurstle with prolonged grief disorder, depression and anxiety.

Defense attorney James Haddow sought to cast doubt on Amsel’s diagnoses of depression and anxiety by questioning the scoring of a self-administered test Bischoff-Wurstle was given to complete, in which she answered questions in such a way as to appear in or close to the normal range.

Amsel explained that those tests were only some of the factors he considered in reaching his diagnoses, including two interviews with her.


Amsel said Bischoff-Wurstle had underreported her symptoms on the surveys she filled out because she wants to present herself in a positive light.

“There is no doubt in my mind she met the criteria for prolonged grief disorder, anxiety and depression,” he said.

The plaintiff and defense rested their cases Thursday. They are expected to present closing arguments Friday before the case is given to the jury.

This is one of more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the business, but it is the first case to go to trial.

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