Where Will Michael Jackson Be Buried?

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Hector Mata / AFP / Getty

The King of Pop in 2002

In death as in life, there is never a dull moment when it comes to Michael Jackson. Police in California's Santa Barbara County met on June 30 to discuss how to deal with an expected mad rush of traffic on the narrow hillside road leading to Jackson's Neverland Ranch for a planned memorial service on July 3. Jackson's body will arrive there a day earlier, in a 30-car motorcade from Los Angeles. Meanwhile, the singer's hometown of Gary, Ind., is reportedly seeking to have the body shipped there for another memorial service being planned for July 10. Amid all the competition to pay last respects to the King of Pop (including a memorial service attended by thousands at New York City's Apollo Theater on June 30), one question still remains unanswered: Where will Michael Jackson be buried?

The singer's father Joe Jackson denied speculation that Neverland Ranch will be turned into a Graceland-style attraction, with the Gloved One's grave as the central attraction. "That is not true," Joe Jackson told reporters when asked whether his son was to be buried at Neverland, which has been owned by a private-equity firm since Michael defaulted on a loan. Although the family patriarch declined to discuss specifics on the time and place of a funeral, citing the second autopsy as a cause for delay, he hinted at grand, Lady Di–scale plans. "I've never heard of a private funeral like this — like big, like Michael's would be," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, the financier whose company owns Neverland is preparing for unprecedented crowds at Friday's memorial. In an open letter to the Santa Barbara community, Thomas Barrack of Colony Capital on June 30 referred to the ranch as "Michael's only true home" and added, "The universal curiosity about Neverland and its connection to Michael is an unchangeable fact."

"The future of the Neverland property will be addressed in due time through normal process and with appropriate deliberation," he continued in a letter that seemed directed as much to the Jackson family as it was to the residents of Santa Barbara County. "Let us all keep in mind that reputations are earned in decades and lost in moments of haste and bad decisions."

Haste is certainly not characterizing the planning of Jackson's final farewell. Some outside observers questioned the Jacksons' rationale for holding off on burial plans while waiting for autopsy results. Cyril Wecht, a forensic pathologist and an attorney who has handled several high-profile cases, including the second autopsy of Anna Nicole Smith's son Daniel, says that in the case of a potential drug overdose, the body of the deceased would not be needed for examination once fluid or tissue samples were obtained. Often, the coroner will keep the brain to conduct neuropathology tests, which can't happen until about two weeks after death, when the brain hardens, says Wecht. It's also likely that the coroner is conducting further tests on the superstar's heart, he adds.

"It's up to the family. They can bury him and then bury the brain and heart later on," he says. "But it's rare for the body to be held back for two weeks."

In a career that took plenty of strange turns, it's perhaps no surprise that Jackson's progress toward a final resting place is beginning to seem just as chaotic. At least one of Michael's close friends, Mark Lester, the godfather to Jackson's three children, says he's in the dark as to the icon's own final wishes.

"It's not the sort of thing you sit around a dinner party and discuss," says Lester, "funeral arrangements for someone so relatively young."