Investigators began looking into Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory in Tazewell County earlier this month after allegations emerged that they were giving away the ashes of animals that did not belong to their owners.
Animal rescue volunteer Richie Rich said he made the discovery while he was searching for a lost dog in South Pekin.
'We were out there searching for a dog named Cosmo, a great dane,' Rich told local CBS broadcaster WMBD on Thursday.
'When we were making our rounds, close to a pumpkin field where she was last seen, and Kayla noticed some standing water of the cemetery.'
Rich, who works with the Trap and Animal Rescue of Peoria (TRAP) organization, said he began searching the cemetery because it would have likely provided the right conditions for a domesticated animal, including water and shelter.
'We pulled in to check for paw prints, didn't see anything, we're immediately met with the smell of what we thought at the time was roadkill... There was a chest freezer outside, along the side of the building that, the closer we got to it, the stronger the smell.'
Tazewell County Chief Deputy Jeffrey Lower later told WMBD: 'There were three animals inside it that had been there for some time. One of those animals had a microchip in the animal. We were able to identify that animal and the owner had received ashes.'
The animal was a cat that was supposedly cremated in 2013 at Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory.
Lower said that another 15 were discovered, and '10 more in another freezer and we have 12 of them.'
'We only took possession of those that had the microchip in them and the rest of them there's just no way for us to identify,' Lower added.
Lower said that they even found an animal from as far back as 2001.
Lower said that the owner had not done anything illegal 'as far as the disposal process' was concerned.
'The only part that was illegal was representing ashes of an animal that was not truly that animal,' the law enforcement officer noted.
What about theft? Fraud? Improper disposal of a dead animal? If he said he was sending the animal out of state for cremation, now you've got interstate crimes which involves the federal authorities.
Joe Abts, owner of the pet cemetery, committed suicide on Wednesday soon after authorities opened an investigation into the claims, hindering police from pressing charges.
Pet owners affected by the alleged scheme still have the option to file a civil complaint against Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory.
In remains unclear why the cemetery kept the animals in the freezer.
According to their website, the pet cemetery was opened in 1984, offering pet cremation and burial, as well as online obituaries for deceased pets.
An email seeking comment from Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory was not immediately answered.
An answering machine for Katy's Pet Cemetery and Crematory said that the establishment was closed on Sunday's after a phone call was placed.
(Daily Mail - July 30, 2017)