John O'Quinn hasn't exactly had the chance to "rest in peace."
The famed Houston billionaire plaintiff lawyer has been dug up and moved to a different grave site two times since he died in 2009 after a fatal car crash. As he wished, he was laid to rest in a mausoleum at his own private ranch near the Blanco River in 2009. He was moved across the ranch to a more conspicuous resting place after those in charge of his estate sold the ranch (a grave site on the front lawn wasn't exactly the most inviting sight). And last, in 2014, he was moved again — this time to a Louisiana cemetery, after his cousin and aunt, who is 91, had trouble reaching the plot going up a steep path, and also thought he should be buried next to his father.
But no one told Darla Lexington, the woman described as “the love of [O'Quinn's] life” in his obituary and who had been with him for ten years before he died. She had already arranged her own grave right next to him in the mausoleum. But then the funeral home that handled O'Quinn's burial loaded him up in a hearse and hauled him across state lines. Lexington found out when a ranch manager walking the grounds noticed a big black hole where his casket used to be.
Now, she's suing the directors of the funeral home, Geo H. Lewis & Sons, alleging that it moved her common-law husband's body without the proper consent — mainly, from her. Lexington's attorney, Lee Thweatt, called it a “modern-day grave robbery.” On top of that, Thweatt said, the hearse transported the body on November 1, All Saints’ Day, the day people honor their dead loved ones.
"There’s 364 more days when you can do something depraved — why did they have to pick that day?" Thweatt said.
To move a body to a new grave site, a funeral home needs consent from both whoever owns the cemetery and the surviving spouse — or, in the absence of a spouse or other immediate family members, whoever is the next of kin. And that's where the main dispute comes in.
In his will, O'Quinn refers to himself as an “unmarried man.” Yet on his death certificate, Darla Lexington is listed as his surviving common-law spouse, according to the lawsuit. After O'Quinn died and left his entire estate to the John M. O'Quinn Foundation (which is who approved the transfer of his body), Lexington had to go to court to argue for her own fair share of belongings. The pair had lived together for seven years; she got some of it back in a settlement. Thweatt said that proving she was his wife will be a big part of the suit this time, too. Plus, he said, given that Geo H. Lewis & Sons prepared O'Quinn's death certificate in 2009, he doesn't understand how the funeral home wasn't at least a little worried that it didn't talk to Lexington about moving her husband's dead body to a different state.
“If you're the funeral home and you get a request as unusual as that, why wouldn't you pick up the phone and at least tell Darla Lexington?" Thweatt said. "They know her name is engraved on the mausoleum. They know she at least had the idea that she would be buried next to him in the mausoleum. They know all of that.”
A spokesperson for the corporation that oversees Lewis & Sons, called Service Corporation International, said that only after learning that O'Quinn considered himself “unmarried” in his will did the funeral directors believe that his aunt and cousin were his true next of kin and that they had his best wishes in mind. O’Quinn's cousin, Carol O’Quinn, told the Houston Press that they frankly didn't care to talk to Lexington about it.
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"In my mind, after all the things Darla said in court the first time — she said some nasty things about John — I'll be honest with you, I didn't give a damn about talking to her about anything," Carol said. "I did not care how she was going to react. I knew she would be upset, but I'm sorry, she's not an O’Quinn."
Even if the court agrees and doesn't think that Lexington was O'Quinn's common-law wife, then Thweatt says he can still prove that Lexington is the owner of the cemetery plot — and in that case, the funeral home still didn't get her consent. In 2011, the year after O’Quinn was moved the first time, Hays County records show, the current ranch owners transferred ownership of a portion of the ranch to Lexington through a special warranty deed — and, Thweatt claims, since it included ownership of the cemetery plot, there’s no way the funeral home couldn't have known about this, unless it “didn't care to find out.”
This is just one of more than 40 times that John O’Quinn has been involved in a lawsuit since he died. Just last week, we covered a lawsuit that the John M. O’Quinn Foundation filed against Gerald Treece, the executor of O'Quinn's will, claiming he has been paying himself millions more than he's earned. Treece also has to handle all the suits O’Quinn faces against O'Quinn's former clients, who say O'Quinn owes them money.
Yesterday, his attorney, Dale Jefferson, said O’Quinn has been sued eight more times since we ran that story — not including the legal action over his dead body.