Many cremains go unclaimed at Idaho county coroner's offices
By EMILY LOWE
Aug. 12, 2017
CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) — Cornelia Shaw died July 6, 1998.
Nothing else is known about her, and no one has ever claimed her as their own.
For the last 19 years, Shaw's ashes have rested in a cremation box on a storage shelf in the back corner of the Canyon County Coroner's Office, sitting among extra office supplies.
Though Shaw has been there the longest, 27 others like her wait in cremation boxes on a shelf to be claimed, or perhaps to remain in the care of the coroner forever.
The 28 cremains held by the coroner's office are those that have never been claimed by anyone. Some cremation boxes have the name of the person, along with the birth date and death date. For some, there is only a death date known.
At the Ada County Coroner's Office, unclaimed cremains have been laid to rest in a crypt at the Cloverdale Funeral Home. The Canyon County Coroner's Office has no such crypt, and cremains are instead stored in the office, like other Idaho counties do.
Ada County, though, even goes to the effort of holding a ceremony for unclaimed cremains. Canyon County Coroner Vicki DeGeus-Morris said she would consider a similar process for the unclaimed cremains in her office's possession, but a final resting place is needed first.
Currently, DeGeus-Morris said she is working to get a crypt for the unclaimed cremains.
"This is my hope, my dream for the cremains," DeGeus-Morris said.
Cheryl Godbout, managing partner at Cloverdale Funeral Home, said Cloverdale Funeral Home, which partners with Hillcrest Memorial Gardens where the crypt would likely be placed, has offered to donate a crypt for free to hold the office's unclaimed cremains in Canyon County.
A crypt would be able to hold about 400 cremation boxes, DeGeus-Morris said.
Godbout said the offer has been made to donate the crypt but details of the donation are still to be determined.
GROWING POPULATION CREATES MORE UNCLAIMED
DeGeus-Morris said with the increasing population more bodies seem to go unclaimed.
The population of Canyon County grew by 12 percent in six years from 2010-16, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Out of 28 cremations, 16 have been received since 2010, she said.
DeGeus-Morris said five of the 28 unclaimed cremains have been received by the coroner's office since the start of this year.
A little further to the east, in Ada County, 17 unclaimed cremains have come into the Ada County Coroner's Office since the start of this year. Ada County Coroner's Office Training Officer Jaimie Barker said that "is a bit higher than normal."
Though Barker couldn't directly attribute the increase to anything specific, he said that as the population grows in Idaho, so does the homeless population.
"Boise offers good programs for indigents," he said. He explained that the homeless may decide to come to the area, and some of those homeless may die and likely go unclaimed.
THE UNCLAIMED IN 2C
Scott Glover, managing partner for funeral services at Alsip's and Persons Funeral Home in Nampa, said each funeral home in Canyon County is put on a rotation each month to assist the coroner's office with cremations.
The coroner's office works with five funeral homes in the area — three in Caldwell and two in Nampa.
If no one claims a body immediately, the funeral home and coroner's office work for two weeks to locate family members of the deceased, DeGeus-Morris said.
If two weeks go by and no family has come forward, it is the coroner's decision to OK the body for cremation, she said. The cremations are done by the funeral home, but the unclaimed cremains stay at the coroner's office.
"They are cared for as if someone who was claimed," Glover said.
DeGeus-Morris explained that if no family comes forward to claim and pay for the cremation of the body, the county looks into what belongings the person had to see if the items could cover the cost of the cremation.
"If there is not enough money, county code is that it has to provide a proper burial," she said. In that case, it means cremating the body.
The county pays for the cremation of unclaimed bodies, which costs $1,000 per cremation, she said.
SPREAD AMONG ROSES
DeGeus-Morris said Canyon County must hold onto unclaimed cremains for seven years before properly disposing of them.
Around 30 years ago, the prosecutor at the coroner's office believed that a proper burial for the cremains was spreading them around roses, she said, though she was not sure where those roses were located during the time that was done.
But years have gone by, and the Canyon County Coroner's Office has not spread ashes among any roses because times have changed, DeGeus-Morris said.
"It might creep some people out now," she said.
THE LEFT BEHIND
Sometimes, DeGeus-Morris said, people will move into homes and find abandoned urns. There are currently three at her office that came to her that way.
Funeral homes, such as Glover's in Nampa, have seen similar instances. One unclaimed cremains box he stores was found in the trunk of a used vehicle a person purchased. All the other cremains Glover holds are from families who never came back to pick up their loved ones, he said.
These cremains left at funeral homes are not considered unclaimed, but rather were left behind by family members who forgot about them, said Alan Kerrick managing partner at Dakan Funeral Chapel.
Between 30 to 40 cremains have been left behind at Alsip and Persons Funeral Home, Glover said.
Kerrick would not speak on how many cremains are held at Dakan Funeral Chapel but said "the scenario does happen."
OTHER COUNTIES STRUGGLE TO FIND PLACE
Sixteen unclaimed cremains sit in a space at the Twin Falls County Coroner's Office, and it appears they will continue to stay there.
Twin Falls County has recently been told by a local cemetery that they are not interested in giving the coroner's office a space for the cremains, said Twin Falls County Coroner Gene Turley.
Turley said he has been trying to get a space at the cemetery for three years where there would still be access to the crypt if members of the family were to come forward to claim the cremains. But his efforts have been to no avail.
Unlike the donated crypt to Ada County by the Cloverdale Funeral Home, Turley said the cemetery was asking too much money for a spot to put the unclaimed to rest.
In northern Idaho in Kootenai County, the coroner's office holds on to one unclaimed cremains. Kootenai County Coroner's Office Case Deputy Coroner, Linn Acebedo, said the man she keeps in her office has been with her for two years.
Generally in Kootenai County unclaimed cremains can stay with either the funeral home who performs the cremation or the coroner's office, but Acebedo wanted to keep the one man's cremains with her in her office because of how hard she worked to discover who the man was.
"It's very sad that people go unwanted," she said. "He needed to finally belong."
RESTING PLACE FOR ADA COUNTY
When Jaimie Barker arrived at the Ada County Coroner's Office as the training officer around two years ago and saw that about 50 unclaimed cremains boxes were sitting on shelves in the office, he said he knew something had to be done about it.
Barker became friends with people at Cloverdale Funeral Homes. The funeral home eventually said they had a crypt the Ada County Coroner's Office could use to inter their cremains that had been sitting on a shelf for so long — free of charge.
The Ada County Coroner's Office has done ceremonies for unclaimed cremains for the past two years.
In May, seven unclaimed or abandoned cremains dating back to 2012 were interred. During the Ada County Coroner's Office's inaugural ceremony in 2016, 58 unclaimed cremains dating back to 1996 were interred at the Terrace Lawn Memorial Gardens mausoleum.
Barker said the Cloverdale cemetery donated the crypt "for the good of the community."
The office created the policy that people who are not claimed must be at the office for one year, while still searching for the family, until they can be interred into the crypt.
Since interring the cremains into the crypt, nine cremains have been given back to their family members through namus.gov and ancestry.com, Barker said.
Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, http://www.idahopress.com