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Susanville man’s body shipped back to Navajo Nation

DeeRoy “Spence” Spencer
DeeRoy “Spence” Spencer Courtesy of Cindy LaMarr

The body of DeeRoy “Spence” Spencer, caught in a tug of war between his California Indian wife and the Navajo Nation where he was born, is back on the Navajo reservation awaiting burial.

Spencer’s wife of 37 years, Jean LaMarr of the Susanville Indian Rancheria, tried to stop his remains from going back to New Mexico, where he died Jan. 17 at age 69. LaMarr had shipped the Vietnam War veteran’s body back to Susanville for a military burial against the wishes of Spencer’s Navajo relatives, who persuaded a Navajo judge to order LaMarr to return his body to the Navajo Nation to be buried at Fort Defiance, in keeping with Navajo Law.

The Navajo Court ruling was upheld by a New Mexico State District Court judge, who gave LaMarr 72 hours to return the body. LaMarr tearfully placed the American flag on Spencer’s brown casket and said her goodbyes as the van from Walton’s Colonial Mortuary in Susanville left for the Reno airport Wednesday morning. But Wednesday afternoon, a heartbroken LaMarr said she changed her mind and ordered the mortuary to turn the van around.

“I called their answering service several times and left the message telling them to stop the driver,” LaMarr said. “They finally called me back last night and said his body was in Phoenix because they weren’t going to go against the New Mexico judge’s court order.”

Spencer’s body is currently at a mortuary in Shiprock, N.M. “It’s ridiculous and wrong of them to do this,” said LaMarr, who was looking for a Sacramento attorney who could file a temporary restraining order in federal court to stop Spencer from being buried in New Mexico. “I want to make sure they can’t bury him until we fight this out in federal court.”

LaMarr said her husband’s dying wish was to go home to Susanville to be buried next to her, while Spencer’s Navajo relatives testified in Navajo Court that he told them he wanted to be buried next to his brother at the Navajo military cemetery in Fort Defiance.

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

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