A Queensland, Australia, family says a “gorgeous” $1,700 oak casket for their recently deceased grandmother was swapped out for a shoddy $70 pine box just before her cremation and funeral. Local police say they are now investigating the alleged incident

Janice Valigura (nee Rothery) passed away on New Year’s Eve after the 74-year-old suffered a stroke, the Daily Mercury first reported. Her niece and goddaughter, Kerry Rothery, and son, Mick Valigura, say the Rockhampton funeral business, Harts Family Funerals, purposely switched the expensive coffin for the cheap one that arrived late to the Rockhampton crematorium Monday.

Screen Shot 2018-01-10 at 7 The $70 pine box which the funeral parlor allegedly placed the late woman's remains at the last minute. Photo: Kerry Rothery provided to Daily Mercury

The family says they initially purchased a “gorgeous” silky oak casket that was lined with white silk and religious effects for the devout Catholic woman’s planned funeral. But between the special Requiem Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in North Rockhampton Monday and the coffin’s appearance at the crematorium -- her remains were moved to a $70 pine box.

Rothery said the coffin arrived “an hour late” to the crematorium and a family friend who saw the cheap pine box called her knowing that they would have spared no expense and that something must be wrong. Rothery called the crematorium to postpone Valigura’s cremation, but upon arrival, the casket top had been screwed into place and the late Ms. Valigura had been wrapped in plastic inside the cheap coffin.

Capricornia Crime Coordinator Detective Inspector Darrin Shadlow told the Daily Mercury Wednesday that police are investigating Harts Family Funerals for potential fraud. The funeral director and business owner, Tony Hart, declined to comment, but Rothery says she and Valigura’s son Mick met with him the next day and were told the coffin-swapping practice is “commonplace” in the mortuary business.

Other funeral operators in the area told the Daily Mercury that the proper and ethical practice is for people to be cremated in the casket their family had purchased. But other industry employees say that they’ve heard of similar instances of coffin-swapping in what they described as a highly unregulated field.

Whitsunday Funerals and Crematorium managing director Jeff Boyle told the paper that the funeral industry lacks regulations as a whole. "It happens far more often than people think, I've seen it happen myself."