Coroner’s Office: Number of unclaimed bodies up nationwide

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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - It’s a sad truth; there are currently 6 bodies and 45 cremated remains sitting unclaimed at the Calcasieu Parish Coroner’s Office. Charlie Hunter, with the Coroner’s Office, said one of those unclaimed bodies came in earlier this week.

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“So, on a national level, there are thousands of unclaimed bodies at various coroner’s office or medical examiner’s facilities, especially right here in Louisiana," Hunter said. "We have an overwhelming problem.”

Hunter said before, when a body went unclaimed by family, the Coroner’s Office would work with a local cemetery or funeral home to bury the unclaimed body in an unmarked grave. However, the number of bodies became so overwhelming and expensive, laws had to be changed in order to accommodate the influx. Now, the Coroner’s Office can request to cremate an unclaimed body.

“Health reasons wise, as opposed to holding a body here in storage, but also it allows us to store them here on site and that way, we can continue to track down the family, and eventually hopefully one day reunite those people with their family,” Hunter said.

Some unclaimed cremated remains date back to 1997, but Hunter said they never stop working towards finding a person’s family.

“We always have an on-call investigator," Hunter said. "All of our investigators are well aware of the bodies that we do have here and have worked on all these dozens of cases. Once a body is cremated just because we’ve exhausted all resources we have to locate a possible family member, we don’t stop working on that case. All of these cases here dating all the way back to the 90s, when we receive possible information, or the advances in technology when it comes to new databases and different things, we are constantly running we are constantly running these names through these databases to see if there is a match or if there is someone looking for these individuals.”

Hunter said if you are looking for someone who may have passed away, “We have been fortunate enough to find families who didn’t know their relative had passed away and were able to give the cremated remains that way they can have that peace of mind. But you can always contact the Coroner’s Office and we can walk them through that process.”

Hunter said they also use NamUs, a national database for those missing, unidentified, or unclaimed.

“Family members can go on there and put in information about these individuals, that way anything we have matches something they have, the computer will automatically notify us and let us know there is a potential match and that just gives us that much information to be able to contact this family and start working that angle,” Hunter said.

He said in January, they were able to find and contact the family of a man who died in 2017 through NamUs.

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