Jackson, Miss. (WJTV) — In Hinds, Madison, and Rankin counties, the coroners look at their job as more than just being part of the end of life, they consider it a public service. But the job often goes beyond a simple declaration, their duties sometimes include detective work – tracking down the families of the deceased.
According to Madison County Coroner Alex Breeland, it doesn’t happen often, but sometimes he can’t find the family. In the last 4 years, there’ve only been 2-3 cases of unclaimed bodies, “An unclaimed body would be someone who literally has no family. Typically it’s someone who was homeless.”
So far in 2017, there have been 2 unclaimed bodies in Madison County. They’re buried in the county-run cemetery in Canton.
Breeland says, “When we do a county burial there is no service. It’s strictly I, as coroner, and the road department go to the county cemetery and do a very plain and private burial.”
Since taking office in 2016, Rankin County Coroner David Ruth has only seen it happen once and he personally attended the funeral for that person, when no one else did. Ruth said, “The one that we did, one of the local funeral homes assisted us in that and we went through a full burial site at a grave site. We actually had someone come in and say a prayer with this person.”
The funeral home that paid for the burial does not want credit for the good deed.
Ruth says that is the only legitimate situation he’s had since taking office. But it’s a tough situation for coroners when people try to get the county to pay for a burial, even when the family could take care of it themselves. Hinds County Coroner Sharon Grisham-Stewart said, “There are people who may have insurance policies on an individual but they don’t want to use the benefits of the insurance policy to lay them to rest for selfish reasons. They’d rather cash in the life insurance policy and pocket the benefits rather than use it to lay the individual to rest.”
In Hinds County, there were 23 people unclaimed in 2016 alone. Those numbers fluctuate each year, “The numbers have averaged since I’ve been coroner,” says Grisham-Stewart, “I had a year where there was only 8. I’ve had probably 27 being the highest.”
When a body goes unclaimed in Hinds County, they end up here in Pauper’s Field behind the Hinds County Jail in Raymond. There are now 2 burial sites. The second one was created last year when the first site became too full. 476 people are buried at the Hinds County sites. Some are infants, some elderly, many homeless, and a few are unidentified.
The cost to bury the dead varies in each county. Hinds County estimates it costs upwards of $500. Madison County says it could be anywhere from $300-$450. “The Rankin County Board of Supervisors has approved a resolution to pay up to $450 for a cremation process,” says Ruth. “If that is the route that is taken.”
While each case is different, the coroners all agreed there is a level of respect that should be given at the end of life. “I rely on God. I rely on family. I rely on friends,” says Ruth. “You know, they’re always there. A lot of times, when the tough cases come in, I get a lot of text messages. I get a lot of emails, phone calls. Just people supporting me and that helps me continue, helps me continue doing what I’m doing.”