Success rate high in Butler County for unclaimed bodies

The Butler County Coroner’s Office is not only responsible for determining how someone died, but it is also tasked with disposing of the body properly — and sometimes that can lead to exhaustive searches to find family members and friends of the deceased.

In the past three months, the coroner’s office has had to turn to local media, including the Journal-News, for help finding family or friends of three people who died unattended or suddenly, which makes the death a coroner’s case.

“We do have cases every year that require a lot of work to find a relative or friend,” Butler County Coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix said. “Think about it, do you know the phone number of your neighbor’s daughter or son? We are a transit society. People have phones, but they change carriers and numbers. People rent and move often. Contact information is not always up to date or doesn’t follow them.”

It’s important to find those family members of friends because bodies that aren’t claimed are cremated at taxpayers’ expense. And there is not enough space at the county morgue to store the bodies for extended periods of time.

“It is not just work at the scene where there is a crime scene tape,” Mannix said. “It is a lot of paperwork and using as many resources as possible to find a family member or friend.”

As of last Thursday, the coroner’s office had investigated 299 cases in 2016. Of those, only four were turned over to a municipality or township as unclaimed for indigent burial, according to the coroner’s office.

Mannix said sometimes people are estranged from their families, their family lives out of town or even out of the country, or they are elderly and don’t have anyone else.

The coroner said the office tries to find someone to claim the body within 10 days because there is limited space in the county’s morgue cooler.

“And there is a decay process that begins … we do our best to find someone in the first couple days,” Mannix said.

Mannix and Middletown Heath Commissioner Jackie Phillips said there are families who cannot afford to pay for a loved one’s final expenses, and that is when the city steps in to cover the costs for indigent burial.

In Middletown, the number of indigent cremations remained steady at 38 in 2013 and 2014, according to the health department. But so far this year, the city has picked up the tab for 35 cremations, totaling more than $17,000. The cost is $505 per cremation.

“You know, it used to be everyone had life insurance for burial through their work, but with people unemployed and working part time, that is a thing of the past,” Phillips said, adding more often families just can’t afford burial, rather than not wanting to do it.

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