The mourners were waiting for the service to begin, and the Rev. Nathanael Green sat at the front of the funeral chapel near the coffin. Soft organ music came from a small record player nearby.
Suddenly, a man stomped down the aisle, turned off the record player, and announced to the 50 stunned mourners that he was halting the funeral because all the fees hadn't been paid.
"I couldn't believe it was happening," said Green, who was hired to preach at the funeral of Corrine J. Allen a year ago today. "He said the family had not paid all of the funeral bills and that he was calling off the funeral until all the bills were paid."
"I had never witnessed such a thing in all my life," said Viola Watson, another mourner who was attending the funeral. "He didn't mumble the statement. He came out with it loud and clear.
As it turned out, the family had already paid more then $1,700 in funeral fees; the dispute was over $300 in separate cemetery costs.
After Rufus N. Horton Sr., owner of the funeral home at 600 Kennedy St. NW, halted the funeral, most of the disconcerted mourners gradually left the chapel, some dabbing away tears.
An hour later, Horton allowed the funeral to proceed after Green threatened to tell other ministers about the incident. Only a handful of mourners remained by then, Green said.
Some details of the unusual funeral circumstances were disclosed in a $150,000 civil suit filed on Tuesday against Horton in D.C. Superior Court by Allen's daughter, Barbara J. Allen of Columbus, Ohio.
Horton this week desputed the suit's account of the funeral disruption.
It was not the only setback that day for the family and friends of Corrine J. Allen, who had been a librarian for the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System.
"On our way to the cemetery," Green said, "I looked over and told my wife that the worst thing that could happen was for there not to be a grave for the body. Sure enough, no hole had been dug for the coffin. I had to say the final rituals with the casket sitting on top of a box covered with green Astroturf."
Later that day, the coffin was buried at the Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland after Horton paid the cemetery's $300 fee.
Suit against Horton charges him with intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. In the suit, Allen alleges that Horton "maliciously, falsely and wrongfully" brought "public hatred, mental distress, anguish and ridicule" upon her when he interupted and canceled her mother's funeral.
Although several mourners have said in interviews that they saw and heard Horton stop the funeral, he said he did no such thing.
"I never called off the funeral," Horton said when reached at his funeral home this week. "The only dispute I had with Miss Allen is that she wouldn't sign the papers authorizing me to get $268.39 from her mother's bank account. I told her that the funeral couldn't go on unless I had the money to pay the (additional) $300 burial fee at the cemetery." The $32 balance for the cemetery fee had been paid in cash.
Horton said that after Allen refused to authorize him to withdraw the $268.39 from her mother's bank account and told him she didn't have the $300 burial fee in cash, he personally contacted the bank. He said the bank agreed to release the money to him if he came in with the funeral bills and Corrine J. Allen's death certificate.
"After I got clearance from the bank, the funeral went ahead as scheduled," Horton said. "While the funeral procession was on its way to the cemetery I personally went to the bank and withdrew the money to pay the burial fee."
According to the suit, Allen had signed a portion of a $15,000 life insurance policy over to Horton on June 16 - six days before the funeral - assigning to him $1,781.54, the full cost of the funeral arrangements.
On June 20, two days before the funeral, Evelyn Pitts, a family friend, wrote a $300 personal check to Horton to cover the separate burial costs, after Horton refused a check from Allen because it was drawn on an out-of-town bank, according to the suit.
Barbara J. Allen, 32, an employe of the Ohio Bell Telephone Co., said she arrived in Washington on June 12, 1978, to make funeral arrangements shortly after her mother died of cancer at 53.
Allen said she dealt initially with Ronald N. Horton Jr., the funeral home owner's son, who has since died.
"Two days before the funeral," Allen said in a telephone interview from Columbus, "Ronald Jr. approached me and asked me to sign papers making the funeral home the administrator of my mother's estate." Mose Lewis III, Allen's attorney, said the estate consisted of a $268.39 checking account balance, a $600 tax refund check and some personal effects.
Allen said she refused to sign the papers and heard nothing more from the Hortons about that subject until the day of the funeral.
"I knew something was wrong on the day of the funeral when no funeral car came to pick me up," Allen said. She said she telephoned Rufus Horton Sr. and was told there would be no funeral unless she signed the papers.
Moments before the services were to begin, Allen said the senior Horton repeatedly demanded that she sign. "He told me it was normal procedure for funeral directors to be made executors of the dead person's estate," Allen said."I told him I had an attorney and that my attorney would have to see the papers before I'd sign.
"He told me that If I didn't sign right then, he would go downstairs and call off the funeral," Allen said. "I didn't believe anyone would do such a thing. But he got up from his desk, walked downstairs into the funeral chapel and stopped the funeral just like he said."
Everlyn Pitts, who said she had known Corrine Allen for 30 years, said she stood up after Horton said that all the funeral fees had not been paid and tried to explain to the baffled mourners that Horton's statement was the product of a dispute and that the fees had been paid.
I tried to retract his statement," Pitts said. "But by that time the audience was leaving the chapel. They left with the impression that Barbara had refused to pay for her mother's funeral and that she was the worst person in the world." CAPTION: Picture 1, Owner of Horton's Funeral Service is being sued for $150,000 by woman charging mental anguish. By Vanessa R. Barnes - The Washington Post; Picture 2, BARBARA J. ALLEN . . . charges "mental distress"