More than three months after a Juneau woman’s death, her family is still working to bring her remains back to her original home in Arkansas.
On the night of Sept. 27, the Juneau Police Department responded to the report of a death at the Breakwater Inn and found Penny Cotten, 48, deceased at the scene. JPD ruled the death a suicide by gunshot, and the State Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the same.
While the family members have suspicions that the death was not a suicide, the issue at hand for them at the moment is getting Cotten’s remains down to Arkansas (where most of her family lives). It will cost a little more than $1,300 to get Cotten’s ashes to Arkansas, Cotten’s daughter Kyra Matthews said recently.
Cotten’s next of kin was her husband, Charles, but the FBI arrested him on Oct. 20 on four counts of felony drug distribution. With Charles in prison, the process of taking care of Penny’s remains was at a bit of a standstill.
Matthews said that Charles eventually signed papers that allowed for Penny’s body to be cremated, and that funeral home employees informed her of that. They also informed Matthews that the cost to transport the ashes would be a little over $1,300. Legacy Alaska Funeral Director Darlene Wilson declined to comment on the status of Cotten’s remains.
“The family would love nothing more than to be able to bring her ashes home,” Matthews, 26, said via email, “so that’s what we are working on.”
The family is struggling to come up with the funds, Matthews said, and they’ve started a GoFundMe, entitled “Loss of Penny Cotten,” that the family hopes can help them in their attempt to bring her remains back to where most of her family lives.
Veronica Crumley, Penny’s sister, said the family members were crushed to find out about Cotten’s death in September.
“It’s just really hard,” Crumley, 47, told the Empire in a recent interview. “That was my best friend, a rock.”
Searching for details
Crumley and Matthews have both been vocal about their doubts that Cotten’s death was a suicide. Crumley is convinced that her sister had no reason to kill herself, and Matthews said she heard from a friend that Cotten was fearing for her life just before her death, though the reasons weren’t clear. Matthews said she hopes people in Juneau can share more information with her, either via Facebook or at email@example.com.
Details on the investigation are difficult for the family to obtain, however, as JPD’s investigation into the death is still open and JPD doesn’t share details on open cases. JPD is also prohibited from commenting on deaths that are ruled as suicides unless they are in a public place or involve a public figure, Deputy Chief David Campbell said. Chief State Medical Examiner Dr. Gary Zientek also declined an interview request, stating via email that death information is not public record.
Wes Jackson, who was a funeral director at Legacy Funeral Homes when Cotten died, said he also doesn’t believe the death to be a suicide. He pointed to the fact that a bullet was not found at the scene. He also pointed out that the death report writes that the bullet both entered and exited through the right side of Penny’s head. Jackson, who recently parted ways with the funeral home, was also friends with both Charles and Penny and knew them well.
Jackson said that both Charles and Penny were staying at the Breakwater at the time of Penny’s death, but were in separate rooms. Jackson said that when he arrived at the hotel shortly after Penny’s death, he saw Charles and said he was distraught.
Charles is currently being held at Lemon Creek Correctional Center awaiting his trial in March for drug distribution. When reached for comment shortly after Charles’ arrest in October, U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt declined to comment on whether the FBI is looking into Charles as a suspect in Penny’s death.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.