Detroit: Too Broke to Bury Their Dead

Poppy Harlow, CNN, October 1, 2009

Inside the Wayne County morgue in midtown Detroit, 67 bodies are piled up, unclaimed, in the freezing temperatures. Neither the families nor the county can afford to bury the corpses. So they stack up inside the freezer.

Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the morgue, said he has never seen anything like it during his 13 years on the job. “Some people don’t come forward even though they know the people are here,” said the former Detroit cop. “They don’t have the money.”

Lifelong Detroit residents Darrell and Cheryl Vickers understand this firsthand. On a chilly September morning they had to visit the freezer to identify the body of Darrell’s aunt, Nancy Graham–and say their goodbyes.

The couple, already financially strained, don’t have the $695 needed to cremate her. Other family members, mostly in Florida, don’t have the means to contribute, either. {snip}

So the Vickers had to leave their aunt behind. Body number 67.

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The number of unclaimed corpses at the Wayne County morgue is at a record high, having tripled since 2000. The reason for the pile-up is twofold: One, unemployment in the area is approaching 28%, and many people, like the Vickers, can’t afford last rites; two, the county’s $21,000 annual budget to bury unclaimed bodies ran out in June.

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Detroit is not alone. The Los Angeles coroner’s office said it, too, has seen an increase in the number of bodies abandoned. {snip}

Little help available

This is an issue of concern, said the Detroit mayor’s office, but the city can’t afford to offer any assistance. {snip}

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‘Reflection of the economy’

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Dozens of other bodies remain, some never identified. And they can’t be disposed of until their families come forward or the county’s burial fund is replenished when the 2010 budget is approved. {snip}

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And in a town with so much need, Schmidt noted one more cause for concern: The increase in unclaimed bodies is not due to an increase in murders–though the rate remains high–but due to natural causes. {snip}

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