Investigators go inside Wayne County Morgue more than a year after exposing mistakes, mismanagement

Morgue under new management

WAYNE COUNTY, Mich. – It’s been a year-long investigation exposing poor record keeping, decomposing bodies and delays in contacting families of the dead at the Wayne County Morgue.

Local 4′s Karen Drew began investigating nearly a year ago when she shared the story of a family who found a missing woman’s body had been at the Wayne County morgue for seven months before it was cremated without their knowledge.

That family was not alone. There were several others with similar experiences. The family of a 59-year-old man found dead in Detroit searched for him for 17 months while his body sat in the morgue with identification on him. Another family’s loved one sat in the morgue decomposing for 22 days. That family sued and did receive an apology from Schmidt.

In another case, a woman said her daughter’s body was delivered to the funeral home with maggots in her mouth. She had only been at the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office for around 11 days. Her mother could not have an open casket funeral.

There are other cases where a body was left in the morgue for long periods of time, unidentified, even though the deceased had identification on them. There was also an incident where police were searching for a murder suspect who had been in the morgue for two months. You can read every report we have on the mistakes at the Wayne County morgue by clicking here.

Speaking with new leadership

Because of Local 4′s reporting, the medical examiner is out of a job and the University of Michigan Medicine no longer has the contract for the morgue.

Local 4′s Karen Drew sat down with the new leadership, Wayne State University Medicine, to ask the questions everyone wants answers -- and for the first time ever Local 4 took cameras inside the morgue.

“You will see the difference so that you can come back and report on those positive things that you have seen,” Melita Jordan, the Director of the Department of Health, Human and Veterans Services in Wayne County, said.

So, how is the Wayne County Morgue going to be different for families? Many families told Local 4 that they were not treated with kindness or respect when they lost a loved one.

“We’re talking now adding the social service services component to this,” Jordan said.

Assistance from social services could have helped the families Local 4 spoke with over the past year.

'How are you going to fix that?'

To correct the issues Local 4 uncovered and exposed, Wayne State University Medicine is now taking over the Wayne County Morgue with a 5-year, $70 million contract.

Typically, 6 to 8 autopsies are completed per day. The issue, however, is that there is a backlog of bodies and not enough pathologists to do the work.

Karen Drew sat down with Dean Dr. Wael Sakr to find out how he plans to fix the mess at the morgue.

“The Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office is not accredited and that is, in part, because of a shortage of Medical Examiners. How are you going to fix that?” Karen Drew asked.

“In a couple of different ways,” Sakr said. “One is, we’re launching a very aggressive recruitment campaign.”

“I do have to ask about the record keeping. So many families came to us complaining that they would call looking for their loved one and the morgue just didn’t keep good records. How are you going to fix that?” Karen Drew asked.

“We are going to fix that through our software of the data management, we are implementing the most current, modern version of it by the end of this month,” Sakr said.

More: Investigation finds wide range of serious mistakes, mismanagement at Wayne County Morgue

Inside the autopsy room

Wayne County Morgue. (WDIV)

In a rare, and surprising move, the new leadership allowed Local 4 cameras inside the medical examiner’s office.

Local 4 wanted to see for ourselves the condition of the building, which a recent audit showed was in “a state of major disrepair.”

One of the issues Local 4 exposed, were bodies that were decomposing at a rate that seemed to be beyond the usual standard.

When we got inside the morgue, we took a look at one of the four refrigeration systems. We asked what is being done to ensure this does not happen again.

“At the end of these 90 days, we’re talking early January, we will have a stand and look on how well we have progressed,” Sakr said.

“There’s a lot wrong. There’s a lot to fix. Why take that on?” Karen Drew asked.

“Beyond just autopsies, and toxicology and histology. But, how can we improve the health of the people in Wayne County. We can do that through the medical examiner’s office. There is data that we can utilize to really help from a population health perspective,” Vice Dean for Finance and Administration School of Medicine Thane Peterson said.

How did so many mistakes and problems happen?

How did so many mistakes and problems happen under the county’s watch?

“I can’t give you all of the historical issues,” Melita said. “The county is committed now, to actually providing the necessary rebuilding, remodeling and the renovations that’s needed. And we have begun to do that.”

They are also working on improving death and cremation permit procedures. Wayne State University also stated it’s part of the fabric of the city and the county and that connection will also make it different and better as it runs the morgue.

More: Mistakes in the Morgue coverage

Have a case you’d like us to look into? Reach the Local 4 investigative team at 313-962-9348, or email Karen Drew at

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.