Burials at Sea: The Real Story Behind Miami's Craziest Van Advertisement
A white '80s Dodge Ram work van idles near the public boat ramp at Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove. The ride has no windows, giving it a Silence of the Lambs vibe. Strapped to the roof is a crude homemade sign that owner Eugene "Jobie" Steppe stenciled with a striking advertisement: "FULL BODY BURIAL AT SEA... $500."
Photo by Francisco Alvarado Eugene "Jobie" Steppe, right, and his business associate Manny Garcia
If you live in Miami and are well connected on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, chances are you've seen a photo of Steppe's ride, which went viral last month under the hashtag #thatssomiami. After all, where else in the United States would you get such a bargain to send your dead loved one off Dexter-style? Hundreds of commenters wondered the same thing as Miami attorney Luis Gazitua, who tweeted, "I can only imagine how many health codes, Florida statutes, and maritime laws this guy is violating."
None at all, says Steppe, who insists business has been booming since he put the sign on his van in early April and began cruising the streets of Miami.
"I've spoken to at least 500 people who are interested in signing a contract with me," boasts the 70-year-old seafarer with sandy-blond/gray hair and a gruff voice. "I'm getting calls from nursing homes and retirement facilities too."
Truth is, state and federal law allows next of kin to bury their relatives at sea, albeit with a slew of conditions to ensure bodies don't wash ashore. From New England to California, a tiny niche of businesses have emerged specializing in helping mourners send their dearly departed into the great abyss.
But the question of whether Steppe, with his sketchy van, history of clashes with police and city officials, and bargain-basement prices, is following all of those regulations -- or actually tossing bodies into the sea -- is murkier than the cold depths of the Florida Straits.
"Mr. Steppe does not appear to be operating a lawful business," Capt. Brad White, who owns a New England-based burial-at-sea firm, alleges in an email interview. "We have asked the Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery, and Consumer Services and the Environmental Protection Agency to review the operator for proper procedure so that general consumers are not misled, disappointed, and sold a bill of goods."