Maine woman defends burying friend in backyard: ‘She begged me, and I have witnesses’

Police uncovered a dead body in a backyard in Norway, Maine, on Tuesday, and now the woman who says she buried the body is speaking out.

Vernelle Jackson told WMTW that she dragged her friend’s dead body in a tarp to her backyard 18 months ago, dug a hole and fulfilled the friend’s dying wish by giving her the burial she requested — a process that took two days because of Jackson’s COPD, which causes breathing issues, she said.

“She begged me, and I have witnesses to this. She asked me not to let her down,” Jackson said, according to WMTW. “She said, ‘Will you promise me to bury me in your yard so I’ll be close.’ She considered me as a daughter she never had. She said, ‘You’re the daughter I never had. I want to be close to you,’ and I finally agreed to do it to satisfy her.”

Jackson said she met the woman years ago when they lived in the South, and the woman moved in with her in Maine after falling ill, the TV station reports.

Maine State Police said in a news release that the remains were discovered Tuesday while detectives were doing a search in the backyard.

An autopsy on the remains was set to begin at the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Augusta on Wednesday, police said.

Investigators said the woman is thought to be in her 80s. The woman likely died a year or a year and a half ago, police said, and “may have lived in a mobile home on the property.”

The medical examiner will identify the woman and determine a cause of death, police said.

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The Associated Press reported that “it’s unclear what led investigators to the property on Tuesday.”

The Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, Norway police, the Maine Department of Transportation and the medical examiner’s office helped in recovering the body, according to police.

Jackson said police told her that such a burial requires a permit, according to WMTW — but she told the TV station she doesn’t regret what she did.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.