LOS ANGELES – Michael Jackson's glimmering casket took center stage at the Staples Center, sitting for more than two hours as celebrities memorialized the King of Pop under the watchful eyes of millions. And when the ceremony was over, it was gone.
By law, the golden casket that presumably held Jackson's body should be exactly where his death certificate says it is: back at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Hollywood Hills cemetery, the site of a private family memorial service held before the Staples ceremony. Los Angeles County records show the cemetery as the temporary location, where it must stay until those records are officially updated.
But where Jackson's body will eventually be laid to rest remained a mystery, fed by the same level of rumor and speculation that surrounded much of his life. Will he be interred at Forest Lawn? Is Neverland Ranch still a possibility?
What if he's not buried at all, but cremated? The family isn't talking — and may not even have decided yet.
The casket was first seen leaving the mortuary at Forest Lawn, where it got into a hearse for the 10-mile trip to the Staples Center. But before the service even started, the hearse was seen leaving the facility — empty — and wasn't spotted again.
But to keep in good standing with the law, the casket would have needed to return to Forest Lawn at some point, presumably after the crowds went home and the television cameras were long gone.
Robert J. Biggins, a former president of the National Funeral Directors Association, said Jackson's body is likely in his casket which he identified it as a custom-made, top-of-the-line coffin made by the Indiana-based Batesville Casket Company that is called a "Promethean." The casket is probably in a temporary holding area — perhaps a mausoleum — pending a final location, he said.
"This happened so quickly that it's something that has to have an awful lot of thoughtful consideration," said Biggins, who is the owner of Magoun-Biggins Funeral home in Rockland, Mass. "This is bigger than your average burial."
Conjecture about Jackson's final resting place has been as fraught as the rumors about where his memorial service would be held in the days before the Staples Center was announced. His 5-page will, signed in 2002, does not include final wishes for his body.
Forest Lawn is one likely possibility. If Jackson is buried there, he would join other celebrities such as Liberace, Gene Autry, Bette Davis and Andy Gibb. Recently deceased actor David Carradine and "Tonight Show" sidekick Ed McMahon also are buried there.
The Jackson family seems divided over whether the body should go to Neverland, which would surely turn the Santa Barbara County ranch into a West-coast Graceland. But Jackson abandoned the 2,500-acre estate after going into seclusion following his acquittal on child molestation charges in 2005, and many of the things that made it unique — the merry-go-round, Ferris wheel and zoo — are gone.