Unclaimed Individuals of Washington County
The Story of the Forgotten Souls of Washington County
Over the years, Washington County has amassed a large amount of indigents, or people who have passed away with either no funds for a burial or no family to arrange for their burial. Prior to 1945, these folks were sometimes residents of County Homes for the Needy. When they passed away, they were buried in pauper's graves like those at Potters Field, in Arden.
In the 1970s, cremation was looked to as a solution when pauper's cemeteries continued to fill. Though some counties still bury indigents, then-coroner Farrell Jackson began ordering the unclaimed be cremated. Currently, the oldest unclaimed person under our curation was cremated in 1979.
In the past few years, unfortunately, Washington County has seen an epidemic of sorts in indigent deaths. The list below contains 116 names. Over 80 occurred in the last ten years. It's not uncommon for us to receive 20-25 bodies for whom no known family exists. Through research, we are often able to return about 35% of these "unclaimed" folks to their families. The rest are cremated, at the county's expense. But what happens to the cremains?
For a long time, the cremains were stored at our former Courthouse Square office, waiting for a loved one to claim them. Coroner Tim Warco long thought that a respectful, long term solution was needed, since the calls he hoped to receive from loved ones seeking their cremated relatives obviously never came in.
In 2017, the Coroner Tim Warco and the Board of Commissioners--at the time, Diana Irey-Vaughan, Harlan Shober, and Larry Maggi--worked together to find that final resting place. It was decided that a crypt located at a mausoleum would be an ideal place. Not only as a peaceful place of rest, but also a place where the public or even descendants of these folks can come pay their respects.
The statement your read above is the plaque that marks the county crypt.
These folks now lay in a mausoleum known as the Four Seasons monument at Washington Cemetery. If you'd like to pay your respects, the mausoleum is along Corridor K. From the road, the county's crypt is located at the back of the monument.
Here, we honor those forgotten souls of Washington County. Their names are below, partly out of respect but also in hope that their descendants will learn of their location and maybe pay them a visit.
Date of Death
Questions and Answers
How does someone become deemed "unclaimed" or "abandoned?"
Technically, legally, the term is "indigent." We classify indigent persons under two categories:Unclaimed bodies are those for which we cannot locate family. Sometimes this is because the person has outlived their family. Sometimes it is because of an estrangement issue. In some cases, there is simply not enough information known about the person to perform successful research. For example, they've never had an emergency contact at a hospital or doctor; never used a relative as a credit reference, or never kept an address book.
Abandoned bodies are those for whom we were able to locate family, but for one reason or another, the family did not accept the responsibility for the disposition of the person.
How Do You Attempt To Locate Family?
We have a protocol and process in place for identification and notification of next of kin. Often, the steps we take are what you think: we talk to friends and neighbors.
We talk to banks, attorneys, and doctors' offices. We reach out to hospitals. We ask for help from our partner first responders. Often, though, we meet with dead ends.
We publish announcements in the newspaper, hoping concerned citizens will call and tell us what they know about this person.
There is no one central database where we can just "google" the name of a person to find a family member. We contact funeral homes, we study obituaries, and we use tools like consumer reporting agencies and criminal justice databases. When we get a lead, we work it.
What Happens When You Don't Locate Family?
You may read the announcement of our policy on the "News and Updates" page of our site, but in general, we begin looking for family before we even leave the person's house. When there are no leads, we publish a notice in the Observer-Reporter and use the above-resources. If nothing pans out, on the 15th day after the date of death, the Coroner reviews the circumstances and will generally order cremation.
The person is then cremated and interred at Washington Cemetery.
What Happens After Cremation?
The person is cremated and their remains are treated just as they are when a funeral home does a cremation for someone. Every person is placed in an individual container, which is then placed inside a small box. The name of the person and their Cremation Permit Number is attached to the box. A copy of the permit is kept in the office at the cemetery, so the decedent can be interred as the family wishes should family ever come forward.
The box is then placed in a water-resistant container. The vault is opened periodically and the cremains placed inside.
Everyone Is Placed Together? How Do You Know Who is Who?
We put respect above everything else. Although these individuals share a place with a number of other souls so unclaimed, the cremains themselves are never commingled or mixed together.
Everyone will remain in their personal container, inside their personal box, with their name and permit number attached. Every set of cremains is appropriately identified.
What Do I Do If A Relative Of Mine Is On This List, and I Want To Claim Them?
We're deeply sorry for your loss and the circumstances. Please call us at 724-228-6785. We will be happy to help you in every legal way.
First, by law, we must return cremains back to a blood relative--not a friend or partner. Ideally, the person will be the next in the line of intestate succession--or put more simply, the closest living next of kin. We may ask you to provide and affidavit attesting to this in some cases.
Second, we must ask that you reimburse the county for the cost of cremation.
Third, you may have to bear the cost of opening the vault at Washington Cemetery to have your loved one's container removed.
We understand that not everyone likes to hear that there are fees involved. Keep in mind, however, that the county taxpayers kindly put up their money to take care of your relative. We simply ask you to pay that loan back. We do not mark up any fees or charge interest.
We are happy to work with you on arrangements if necessary.
Why Isn't There Public Assistance For This Sort Of Thing?
Unclaimed bodies place financial stress on the counties of the Commonwealth. We've heard it before: "just let the state take care of me when I die." The County Code provides only a small amount of money for an indigent burial--technically not enough to even open a grave.
Some churches and charities will offer assistance. Families often start crowd-sourced fundraisers such as a GoFundMe.
Veterans may be eligible for burial at the National Cemetery. We always try to verify someone's service status to see if we can arrange this.
Some folks on public assistance are eligible for a very small amount toward a burial.
There really is no organized form of assistance out there. However, if you have a good idea and would like to take action, write to your Senator or State Representative.
|Ayala, Debbie Ann||4/6/20|
|Baer, Patricia A.||12/24/21|
|Bedillion, Ira S.||1/31/85|
|Brezinski, Jonathan Henry||5/13/18|
|DeLarosa, Lucinda Ann||5/13/12|
|Domyanich, Jonathan T.||10/4/09|
|Ellsburg Sr, Edward H.||2/6/06|
|Ethel Mae Wall||Unknown|
|Fabery, Richard J.||1/6/21|
|Hayes, Stephen A.||2/14/21|
|Hewitt, Billie Jo||6/6/19|
|Higginbotham Sr, Aubrey D.||6/21/95|
|Higginbotham, Louis E||1/14/01|
|Horvath, Allen Andrew||7/2/16|
|Hudson, Katrina C.||5/3/20|
|Iseman, Mark A||6/12/15|
|Jakubek, Thomas P.||3/24/20|
|Meredith, Marcus Alan||2/24/20|
|Miller, Eugene C.||2/13/20|
|Mitchell, Dennis Lee||9/4/20|
|Myles, Andrew L. A. (aka Andrue)||12/22/21|
|O'Neil, Mary A.||1/2/21|
|Reed, Kenneth L.||2/20/20|
|Salopek, Andrew J., III||1/10/18|
|Schultz, Fred W.||1/16/15|
|Shadeck, Lester David||9/10/18|
|Smith, Paul H||9/29/12|
|Stewart, Charles S.||11/29/18|
|Sundin, Dolores M||1/14/08|
|Taylor, Phillip C., Sr.||10/4/17|
|Vesely, Ronald D||8/29/12|
|Wargo, Dorothy J.||8/27/20|
|Williams III, Thomas R||4/1/14|
|Wood, Julie I.||3/19/20|