HIGHLAND HILLS, Ohio - They're called unclaimed bodies. They're bodies that medical examiners offices handle nationwide and here in Northeast Ohio.
“An unclaimed body is a person that the next of kin has not stepped up or we cannot find family for that person,” said Joe Stopak, manager of investigations and morgue operations.
The Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office handles a handful of unclaimed bodies each year. In 2013, the office declared seven bodies to be unclaimed. In 2012, it had 17 unclaimed bodies. In 2011, there were 11 unclaimed bodies.
“They [unclaimed individuals] are probably older, they're frequently people who are isolated,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner.
Stopak said he spends weeks, even months, trying to track down family of a deceased person before he declares the person unclaimed. During the time, the body is kept in a deep freezer.
Once all options are exhausted, those individuals are handed over to their respected city for burial. Stopak said most cities choose to cremate unclaimed bodies because it's cheaper. The cost of cremation to cities is about $500 per body.
In Cleveland, the cremains of unclaimed bodies are buried at the city-owned Highland Park Cemetery in Highland Hills.
“We want all souls to rest, and you have to have some dignity in what you do when no one is claiming their bodies,” said Michael Cox, director of public works.
Cox said there are 18,000 remains of unclaimed bodies in a little known section of the cemetery called Potter's Field. There are no signs for Potter's Field, no officials roads and no graves.