Why did it take 2 years for the Wayne County Morgue to identify a man’s remains when his ID was found with him?

Family wants answers after homicide victim’s remains were cremated

Why did it take two years for the Wayne County Morgue to positively identify a man’s remains when his ID was found on him?

WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. – Why did it take two years for the Wayne County Morgue to positively identify a man’s remains when his ID was found near him?

Skeletal remains wrapped in a blanket were discovered in July of 2019 in the backyard of a home on Livernois Avenue on Detroit’s west side. A bullet was discovered with the remains.

The Wayne County Medical Examiner reported the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head. They ruled the death a homicide.

The victim has since been identified as William Hagen, a father to four boys. His family has many questions about his death and how his remains were handled by the morgue. He was cremated without the family being informed. His killer has not yet been found.

William Hagen’s sister-in-law, Tricia Hagen, has been looking into the case for the last two years. She has been trying to solve his murder and find out what has been going on inside the Wayne County Morgue.

“According to homicide detective he had mentioned that there was a driver’s license with my brother-in-law’s name on it and that’s how they found us,” Tricia Hagen said.

Mistakes in the Morgue: Click here for complete coverage

Phyllis Ostrowski is William Hagen’s mother.

“Once my daughter-in-law, Trisha, started digging -- she started talking to people that -- I would have never even crossed my mind,” Ostrowski said.

The family’s first frustration was waiting for the morgue to identify William Hagen’s body. Even though his ID was found with his remains, the morgue told the family they had to send DNA out to confirm his identity.

DNA was sent and the family waited. They said they kept calling the morgue and holding out hope the remains weren’t actually those of William Hagen.

“I held out a lot of hope. I was hoping it wasn’t him,” William Hagen’s son, Drew Hagen, said.

After two years went by, they turned to the Local 4 Defenders for help. Local 4′s Karen Drew started making calls and a few weeks later the DNA results came in.

“It was him. It was a DNA match,” Ostrowski said.

The University of Michigan Health System currently runs the Wayne County Morgue. It released the following statement:

“Michigan Medicine has great sympathy for any family who has experienced a delay in receiving information about a deceased relative or friend at the Wayne County morgue. We strive to do our best to care for every deceased person at the morgue and to serve their surviving families and friends with respect.

In the case of William Hagen, a wallet with an ID was found near the deceased’s remains in July 2019. Because of the condition of the remains, the ID could not be definitively associated with them. The family was notified the next day and family members provided DNA sampling that was sent for analysis at a forensics lab in Texas. The lab results were significantly delayed at that lab and only became available recently to confirm the identification. The cremated remains are at Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township.

Michigan Medicine is committed to serving the needs of our Wayne County families in a timely fashion. There are services, some highly specialized, which can only be done by outside agencies which may sometimes result in delays. We are strongly committed to continuously improving our services, and are working on a number of corrective actions, including hiring a full-time employee dedicated to identifying individuals and a web-based portal designed to share information that could lead to identification.”

The family did not give the morgue permission to cremate the remains.

“It shouldn’t take two and a half years to get those answers,” William Hagen’s sister, Heather Alward said. “Who gave them the right to do that? Who said they could do that?”

The question remains: Who killed William Hagen? He was found with a bullet in his head, body left in the backyard of a home. His cell phone was found with him but Local 4 discovered police never tried to extract any information from his phone.

“What detectives are doing now is, they’re re-attempting to extract the data from the phone itself to see if there’s any evidence there,” Detroit police Cdr. Michael McGinnis said. “If it wasn’t done before, I don’t know why.”

Detectives are now trying to extract data from the phone to see if there was evidence. To make matters worse, the family was forced to wait months before they could pick up William Hagen’s remains.

“Why did we have to wait, we found out in October, and we thought, ‘wait ‘till January?’ Like, he’s -- who does that? Like, they’re people. People deserve to be laid to rest,” Alward said.

Local 4 was with the family when they went to Our Lady of Hope in Brownstown Township to pick up William Hagen’s ashes.

Detectives are actively working on the case after Local 4 brought the DNA results to their attention. Crime Stoppers will be holding a press conference to bring more attention to this case on Monday (Feb. 7).

The family was unable to get William Hagen’s death certificate because the morgue messed up the paperwork. His children were not able to get benefits. Local 4′s Karen Drew spent days working on that for them and got the situation resolved, so now they can file for benefits.

They will hold a small service for William Hagen in a week or so and then will turn their attention to finding his killer.

Second Deputy Chief Rudy Harper released the following statement regarding the investigation:

“Our Missing Persons Sergeant indicates she has periodically (every couple of months) communicated with our assigned coordinator from the National Missing Unidentified Persons System (NAMIS) on the status of the DNA testing. This coordinator is our contact for the University of North Texas that completes the DNA testing.

I have requested the Homicide Officer in Charge of the investigation release property to the victim’s family.

I have spoken to our cell phone extraction technician and there was no attempt to extract the data from the cell phone in 2019. This has since been completed. We are investigating why this was not completed in 2019 so we can prevent it from happening in the future.”

The University of Michigan Health System released the following statement regarding a separate incident:

“The body of Steven Wetter was misidentified after his death in 2011, after some critical steps were not taken by morgue officials involved. Many of those steps -- including checking dental, radiology and anthropology records -- are standard parts of the Wayne County Morgue’s process. Although the misidentification occurred prior to Michigan Medicine operating the morgue, we regret the mistakes made in this case and are committed to maintaining higher standards of care and practice.

  • We are strongly committed to continuously improving our services, and have made some recent progress.
  • Created a new position of identification coordinator, interviews underway.
  • Built a prototype of public facing web-based portal to get public participation in helping identify missing persons, currently under review.
  • Launched a project with the U-M College of Engineering to assess morgue systems and procedures.
  • Repaired a backup generator transfer switch and are evaluating replacement refrigeration equipment.

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William Hagen. (WDIV)

About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.