Unclaimed bodies pile up at Wayne County morgue

Wayne County can't afford to bury bodies left behind by families

DETROIT – Deep inside the Wayne County morgue is a room filled with bodies waiting for burial. No one has claimed these remains and the county can't afford to bury them.

There was a time bodies went unclaimed because they could not be identified, but thanks to DNA testing and dental records officials can know identify the vast majority of dead people. Too often, the challenge for the Wayne County Medical Examiner is to get the next of kin to pick them up.

Imagine if your brother, sister, mother, or father died and you just left their remains unclaimed in a morgue freezer. It's happening over and over again.
Wayne County has an entire freezer full and a second freezer filling up fast. All told, there are about 200 bodies in the morgue and half of them waiting for relatives to do the right thing.

Sometimes it's a financial issue -- families simply can't afford to pay for the burial.

However, in many cases, family members just didn't care enough for the person to pay for a funeral or burial -- a few have even gone into hiding to avoid the hassle and expense of claiming and properly disposing of their relative's remains.

For legal reasons, the county can't cremate unclaimed remains and basic burial costs around $750. The state will pay $450 to bury an unclaimed body and the county pays $300, but with budget cuts it is increasingly difficult to find the money. It would cost less than $150,000 to bury all unclaimed bodies in the morgue.

If you would like to donate to organizations raising money for the humane treatment of unclaimed bodies, please send a check or money order the Wayne County Medical Examiner; 1300 E Warren Ave, Detroit, MI 48207, and add the following note on the memo line: Unclaimed Burial Donation.

If you have any questions or want more information about how you can help, please call the Wayne County Medical Examiner's office at 313-833-2504.