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Granddaughter: Grandmother cremated without family's consent

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

It's never easy losing a loved one but for one Valley family, the pain and suffering lingers after their grandmother was cremated without the family's consent.

CBS 5 News investigated a possible cover-up in Apache County.

A small rural community in Apache County is where a real cowgirl, Sunny Hand, spent 27 years working at a nearby ranch.

But Hand's days home on the range came to a sudden end when the 65-year-old grandmother passed away peacefully last year.

What happened after her death, however, has been anything but peaceful.

"Somebody needs to be held responsible for what they've done," Hand's granddaughter, Crystal Seeley said.

The Apache County Sheriff's Office never notified family members in Phoenix that Hand had passed away.

They learned of her death in a letter from the woman who she worked for, Carol Crow. The letter to the family arrived four-and-a-half months after Hand died.

"It was very hard for me to hear this and then to know that it happened so many months ago," Seeley said.

Family members want to know why sheriff's deputies didn't do a better job tracking them down and why the county fudiciary approved an indigent burial form with so much information missing.

The front page clearly states if this application is not filled out completely, it will be denied.

Apache County Manager Delwin Wengert said they are looking into the case to see if the fidiciary followed proper procedure.

"Is it possible a mistake was made here? It is always possible a mistake was made and we look at it, if and if any actions are needed, we will take those," Wengert said.

A closer look at the indigent burial form shows it was filled out by Crow so the county would dispose of Hand's body.

She was cremated, without the family's consent.

"I want justice and not just for us but for my mom because she should be in Iowa with the rest of the family," Seeley said.

CBS 5 News also learned that Crow listed family members names but did not list any phone numbers or addresses, even though Seeley claims Crow had her contact information.

Hand's granddaughter claims that Crow deliberately misled authorities and waited to contact them so she could keep Hand's estate.

CBS 5 News went to Apache County to ask Crow what happened.

"Why did you wait four months to contact the family? I didn't have an address, I did not know how to get a hold of them," Crow said.

Crow said she didn't falsify any documents.

Crow said that Hand had left a handwritten will from 1998 with clear instructions that she was to sell the horses and do what she wanted with the vehicles and other belongings.

The will was never authenticated.

Crow kept one of the trucks.

Family members said they went to the Apache County Sheriff's Office to file a complaint against Crow, but insist authorities told them to go away and no report would be taken.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office told us they could not comment on the case but any citizen is free to file a police report.

Hand's family is planning to try again.

"Had they done their job in the first place, we wouldn't have this situation at all," Seeley said. "My grandmother wouldn't have been cremated and my grandmother's estate wouldn't be missing."

Hand's family has filed two civil cases against county officials and Crow, but both cases were dismissed.

The country attorney said they will review the case once a police report is filed.

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