Unclaimed remains buried in Springfield cemetery

Saturday, November 16, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- They were the forgotten ones -- 49 people whose remains were stored in a metal cabinet for years, waiting for relatives to claim them.

A funeral home service finally stepped in and donated a 50-foot plot in a Springfield cemetery, allowing them to be laid to rest Thursday. Some of the remains had been stored up to 30 years.

"This is indeed a hard and sad business as we remember -- as we remember those who no one else remembers," the Rev. Larry Snow, pastor of Central Christian Church in Springfield, told some two dozen people who gathered for the ceremony.

State law requires counties to provide for people whose remains are unclaimed. It is an odd responsibility that, for the past 30 years, Greene County has infrequently borne.

When a body is unclaimed in the county, Brian Simmons, owner of Springfield Mortuary Service, steps in.

He helps the county in its search for information about the person -- an often futile attempt to attach a personality to a name that may well be an alias.

Sometimes he lucks out and locates a family member willing to claim the body.

On average, Greene County orders unclaimed bodies cremated after about two weeks.

"It just kind of depends on what we know about the person," said Ron Yoder, deputy medical examiner for Greene County. "If they are unidentified, then we'll hold them longer."

The county decided to bury the remains after storage space grew short at Springfield Mortuary.

"We spent quite a bit of time trying to find out what was the right thing to do ... and this is what we came up with," said Jeff Reinold, county budget officer.

The 49 were laid to rest in 50 concrete urns -- the oldest remains were placed in two urns because the ashes were coarser and did not fit into one -- in the plot at Rivermonte Memorial Gardens.

The space, valued at about $50,000, was donated by the Thieme-Shadel-Hicks Funeral Service.

"I know absolutely nothing" about them, said Jeff Hicks, co-owner of the funeral service. "They are merely names on a page. And I regret that, because they do mean something to somebody."

Records of the dead will be kept by Thieme-Shadel-Hicks in case anyone should step forward in the future.

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