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Family finds out missing woman’s body had been at Wayne County morgue for months, then cremated

County Medical Examiner’s Office says it attempted to locate next of kin; Family says morgue claimed it didn’t have the woman’s body

Local 4 Defenders investigation: Why woman was cremated without family approval
Local 4 Defenders investigation: Why woman was cremated without family approval

DETROIT – Dawn Snider remembers the last hug and kiss from her goddaughter Natassia Meadows.

Meadows was working on her life, pursuing a GED and staying with her godparents in Romulus away from her past, which involved losing custody of children and bouts with drug use.

“She turned around, she came back, she kissed me. And it was so sad. I was like, ‘I’m gonna see you again.’ And she laughed. That was it. So I never saw her again,” Snider said. “She was going to Romulus for adult education and she found a full-time job.”

The last time the 31-year-old left her godmother’s house was Oct. 13, 2019. Days passed and then worry started to set in.

“I was throwing messages out on Facebook and then her phone, it went from ringing to going straight to voicemail,” Snider said.

Despite family reaching out on social media, there were no leads.

On Oct. 17, 2019, a body was found inside a home on Appoline Street in Detroit, about 25 miles east of Romulus. ID on the body stated it was Natassia L. Smith. An autopsy was performed and the cause of death was an accidental drug overdose.

Her body would sit at the Wayne County morgue for seven months.

“I went to Romulus and I filed a missing persons report, I gave them pictures, everything,” Snider said.

Meadows was officially listed as a missing person. Romulus police said they called the morgue but received no answers about the missing mother.

Her godmother and mother said they kept calling the county morgue, giving Natassia’s name as “Meadows” or “Smith.” She was also known as “Tasha.” They explained what her three tattoos looked like.

The family said the morgue kept saying it didn’t have the 31-year-old mother.

According to Wayne County, her body was cremated in May 2020.

A spokesperson said, “Wayne County makes every reasonable attempt to identify next of kin, but sometimes it has no success in doing so.”

This past summer, Meadows’ family received a call from the Inspector General of Michigan. She had filed a complaint about fraud on her bridge card. Investigators were looking for her.

“I’m like, ‘Sir, she’s missing. I don’t know where she is, we’ve been looking for her, we can’t find her,’” Snider said.

In a matter of days, the family was notified that Meadows was found, she was dead and she was cremated.

Local 4 Defenders were able to track down Meadows’ mother in Kentucky.

“All they’re saying is it’s an accident,” said her mother, Marilyn Lewis. “I called the same morgue and got told she also went by Natasha Smith and she had tattoos. I told them all her tattoos, they said they didn’t have her.”

What does the morgue say about the mixup?

“I think everything was done right ... The woman in question was never in our database, she is identified as Natasha Smith. She has official state ID that says Natasha Smith,” Dr. Carl Schmidt, Wayne County medical examiner. “As we know, they never offered the name, the name Natasha Smith.”

“I want everybody who has a daughter who is missing to know what is going on. This ain’t just right,” Lewis said. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what we are going through.”

If you have had a problem with the Wayne County morgue, contact Local 4′s Karen Drew by email at kdrew@wdiv.com.

Read below: Full statement from the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office

“The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office followed protocol and procedures when attempting to locate the next of kin of a decedent identified in October 2019, through state issued identification and police fingerprinting, as Natasha Smith. The fingerprints, which are a definitive form of identification, have no other names associated with them.

The Medical Examiner’s Office conducted a search in the Michigan Department of Corrections system, as well as Google and the White Pages; in an attempt to locate family. An out of state relative was identified, however, no contact information was provided for the relative and it was later determined that the relative was deceased. Despite our efforts, Ms. Smith remained unclaimed for seven months. To date, no one has offered proof of familial relationship with the decedent.

Our staff received calls inquiring about a missing person with the name of Natassia Meadows and referencing tattoos of a female decedent. However, no decedent named Natassia Meadows was in our system, and the system is not configured to search for tattoos or distinctive markings. Until a familial relationship is proven and the decedent in question is identified as Natassia Meadow, Natasha Smith will continue to be the name of the decedent on record.

It is always our goal to locate family to claim decedents from the Medical Examiner’s Office, however, in this case we were unsuccessful despite utilizing all of our resources.”

Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office

More: Local 4 Defenders news coverage


About the Author:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.