MARLON A. WALKER •
firstname.lastname@example.org > 314-340-8104 | Posted:
Monday, June 4, 2012 12:10 am
ST. LOUIS • The woman had been shot 11 times outside a
White Castle restaurant last August, her bullet-riddled
body unrecognizable to anyone who knew her.
This couldn't be the way Angie Young's family would see
her for the last time, Ronald Jones thought.
So Jones, the owner of Ronald L. Jones Funeral Chapels
on East Fair Avenue near O'Fallon Park, would spend many
hours over three days reconstructing the woman, who was
known by all of Jones' workers. Afterward, an apprentice
remarked that the 36-year-old single mother had never
It's the kind of compliment for which Jones has based
his business. In St. Louis, he is the go-to guy for
families with a relative left disfigured by a gruesome
To Jones, it's about more than the cosmetic outcome.
"It's hard enough to lose a loved one, but to lose them
twice by not being able to see them?" he said. "When I'm
able to give them the opportunity to see their loved one
again, it allows them to accept things and try to get
• • •
After a person dies — in the case of an open casket
service — their family normally signs their loved ones
over to a funeral home, where the body is embalmed,
cleaned and clothed. Makeup is applied to correct skin
discolorations caused by livor mortis, when the blood
shifts to the areas of the body closest to the ground.
Often, Jones takes a few more steps to get his job done.
As a "restorative artist," the technical term for what
he does, Jones has used wire, wooden stakes and even
rebar to enhance a body's appearance. He has worked on
bodies that have come in seriously decomposed, missing
parts and, in one case, ripped in half.
In more than 35 years, Jones says he has never turned a
"I get a joy and satisfaction out of a job well done,"
he said. "Of course, it's not typical. We all have a
calling. This is not something you choose."
Jones, 65, said he was inspired as a child by
undertakers because they were always dressed nicely and
had flashy cars and jewelry. He went to mortuary school
to earn his own. He got his first job in a funeral home
when he was 19. In 1976, when he was 29, he opened
Ronald L. Jones Mortuary on Riverview Boulevard near
Calvary Cemetery. His mission has been to give people
anything they can think to ask.
Jones is known as flamboyant, always in large round
glasses — think Elton John — with large rings on both
hands, wearing tailor-made suits. A black Rolls-Royce
Phantom sits parked in a handicapped spot on the side of
his funeral home, where he also lives.
The moniker extends to his work. Twice he has prepared
men for burial standing up, which requires distinctive
embalming and tilting a casket to set it at eye level
with most mourners. The first time, he said, was because
the dead man did not want people looking down on him.
Then there was the celebrity jam session, complete with
light show, at the 2005 funeral for blues musician
Johnnie Johnson, who is often considered the inspiration
for the Chuck Berry song "Johnny B. Goode."
Jones was half of the focus of a 2005 documentary called
"Pushing Up Daisies," for which a film crew spent time
behind the scenes with Jones and a funeral director in
Michigan. In the short film's description, it says Jones
"represents the pageantry of funerals in the U.S." He
thinks of funerals more as "productions," an ultimate
send-off with big choirs and high-end accessories.
Bodies have been flown in from as far away as California
to get the Ronald Jones treatment.
His own send-off, "SuperJam 2099," is already in the
works. He said the spectacular will be a multiday event,
complete with live performances, wardrobe changes (for
him) and an $86,000 sarcophagus he started paying for
The requests from Jones' clients include restoring loved
ones whose deaths were anything but natural. He thumbed
through a photo album in an empty viewing room recently,
showing images of bodies he had transformed. One was of
a man crushed after falling into an elevator shaft. Many
were victims of gunshot wounds to the head. Jones said
he can sometimes spend days on one victim to prepare for
Chrystal Randle, an apprentice who has been working with
Jones since August, said Jones is a perfectionist, often
handling cases where some funeral directors would simply
tell families to have a closed-casket service.
"Some won't try to do the restoration Mr. Jones will
do," she said. "He doesn't stop."
Jones said his ego is partly to blame. Tell him he can't
do something, and it makes him want to do it even more.
• • •
That was the case with Garrett Pearson, 62, who died
after being hit by two vehicles on Interstate 44 on
April 1. Tiffany Jones, Pearson's daughter (no relation
to Ronald Jones), said she went to the St. Louis medical
examiner's Office to see her father's body when he
finally was identified two days after the accident but
was turned away by officials.
"I got upset because I wanted to see my daddy and they
wouldn't let me. They kept saying, 'You don't want to
see your dad like this.'"
She requested Ronald Jones based on previous work she
Jones said he rebuilt part of Pearson's torso, which had
been crushed in the accident, and also filled in a hole
in the man's neck where his trachea had been taken out,
the effects of throat cancer.
"I didn't even notice he was in an accident," Tiffany
Jones recalled thinking when she first saw her father at
Jones' funeral home. "I really wanted to see him one
more time. To see him look like himself? That helped a
"It was remarkable."
Few funeral homes in the area are known specifically for
work done on those whose deaths were not natural. Gerald
Johnson, owner of Serenity Memorial Chapel in East St.
Louis, said Ronald Jones is able to produce incredible
results because of his passion for the work.
"It's almost like he puts himself under mandate not to
close a casket," said Johnson, who has studied under
Jones to learn some of his techniques. "Sometimes, a lot
of embalmers will take the easy way out. That's not the
case with Ronald."
Larry Byndon, who worked for Jones for several years in
the early 2000s, said he marveled at the dedication
Jones showed to his work. One case involved a man whose
head had been torn apart in an accident. Over several
days, he said Jones reconstructed the entire skull.
"He pieced it back together like a puzzle," said Byndon,
who now owns Bi-State Cremation and Funeral Service in
Florissant. "There was nothing left. When I think of
restoration, I think of Ronald Jones.
"There's some good people out there, but he's one of the
• • •
In the back of the photo album filled with pictures of
past clients are thank-you cards and short notes from
family members. Many comment on Jones' workmanship and
the time he spent with them while their loved ones were
in his care.
It's all part of the job, he said.
"Some people can sing real well, and some can preach,"
Jones said. "I consider myself a caregiver because (the
funeral business) it's almost like a ministry. You are
coming in contact with people at their lowest point."