There are thousands of “John and Jane Does“, forensic talk for murdered or dead bodies, that have been sent to morgues to be claimed by loved ones, but no one ever arrives. Due in part to sheer volume, missing persons and unidentified human remains
cases are a tremendous challenge to state and local law enforcement agencies. More than 40,000 sets of human remains that cannot be identified through conventional means are held in the evidence rooms of medical examinersthroughout the country. But only 6,000 of these cases—15 percent—have been entered into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. Some blame the economy when families of missing people and reports that a person is missing, are nowhere to be found. Often, the unclaimed were also unclaimed in life, some by their own choice, estranged from family, homeless men and women living on the streets and sleeping in shelters or under highway bridges
Many of the people who go missing in the United States are victims of homicide. In many cases, the investigation begins at a different point—when human remains are found. 2,300 Americans are reported missing every day. Only a tiny fraction of these people have been abducted by strangers (see ) There were 840,279 missing persons cases in 2001 and all but about 50,000 were juveniles, that is, anyone younger than 18. About 100 missing-child reports each year fit the profile of a stranger abduction. Slightly more than half—about 25,500—of the missing are men. About four out of 10 missing adults are white, three of 10 black and two of 10 Latino, at least among those who are reported as missing. About one-sixth have psychiatric problems. Young men, people with drug or alcohol addictions and elderly citizens with dementia make up other subgroups of missing adults. Two-thirds of those victims are ages 12 to 17, and among those eight, out of 10 are white females. Nearly 90 percent of the abductors are men, and they sexually assault their victims in half of the cases.
The media can be more problematic than helpful in these cases: It prompts irrational behaviour in people. Milk carton profiles and shocking and misleading statistics prompted tens of thousands of mothers and fathers to have their children fingerprinted, just in case their worst fears came to pass. Media stories can also fool people into believing in non-existent trends. For instance, when people think of a missing female, most imagine a young, white, attractive girl from the suburbs. They don’t picture a young black woman living in a poor area. The media tends to focus on “damsels in distress“, typically affluent, young white women and teenagers. Bruce and Kellie Maitland, whose daughter Brianna was 17 when she disappeared near Montgomery, Vt. The media hasn’t brought attention to this girl’s case. The Maitlands have concluded that the missing girl has to be a perfect person. Charlotte Riley, whose daughter, Amie, disappeared and was later found slain in New Hampshire, stated “she wasn’t a beautiful college co-ed. It doesn’t matter what your child looks like. She was a person.”
In some instances, police can be more combative than supportive of victims’ families. State police responded with an accusation of their own against the Brianna, two months after the Maitlands’ angry accusations. During a press conference, the lieutenant in charge of her case, suggested Brianna was a drug user who made poor choices that prompted her apparent predicament. The teenager “has a very questionable background involving drug use. She made some unhealthy lifestyle choices in her life prior to her disappearance. Brianna was involved in the drug communities in that area. She allowed that world to become part of her world.” As evidence, the police said the missing girl had an “unspecified” relationship with a crack dealer from Queens who was living in the area. A week later, the state police chief criminal investigator, Capt. Bruce Lang, went even further in a conversation with a reporter
Lang “confirmed Maitland owed someone money for drugs at the time of her disappearance. Lang said two people interviewed during the exhaustive investigation told police Maitland had outstanding drug debts. Lang would not say how much money she owed or for what drug.” The paper also noted that a newly released photo of the missing girl showed her as “thinner and more pale.” Eight months later, the Messenger printed a front-page story that retracted the drug implications, which were based on gossip in Montgomery, an insular, isolated town of 900 near the Canadian border.
Sometimes families aren’t looking for their missing relatives anymore:
- family members are estrangedand haven’t spoken in years
- family members have given up and lost hope
- the missing person had an illness or disorder, such as FAE, schizophrenia, and the family was at a loss as to how to provide care
- the missing person has emotional and physical demands that are overwhelming
- family members have aged and died
- the dead person is homeless
- family members don’t care
- family members can’t afford to pay for funeral costs
- family members are unaware their loved one’s remains have been found
- family members don’t want to hassle with the paper work
Unclaimed bodies are categorized into three types: unidentified corpses; identified corpses unclaimed by family members; and identified corpses whose family cannot be reached. Young males are more frequently killed in acts of violence, such as street fighting. Those bodies are generally fresh and more easily identifiable, Jantz said. Often victims of abduction, dead females are hidden or left to the elements, she said. Then they decompose and become difficult to identify. Older men, many of whom are transient, also appear in unidentified body lists.
Family members who cannot afford to pay for funeral costs usually step forward and claim their loved one’s remains, but leave it in a mortuary refrigerator for as long as possible until monies can be gathered for a burial. Other families do not come forward at all, hoping the county will bury the body for them which indeed it does, after cremation, and along with approximately 1600 other cremated, unclaimed bodies, in a mass grave. One woman was in prison when she died and her mother was homeless. One mourner this year was in prison when her homeless mother died. “We tried to get her ashes, but we never got enough money,” a volunteer said. As per tradition, the mass grave is marked only by the year.
A new Illinois law is allowing the use of unclaimed bodies in anatomical education to help combat a shortage of cadavers amid a growth in medical school enrollment. The public of course, is making a big issue out of it, yet no individuals have come forward to claim unrelated remains and pay for a burial. The medical examiner’s office in Cook County, Ill., has so far given five bodies to the Anatomical Gift Assn. of Illinois under the policy. Two of the bodies have been shipped to medical schools for use in dissection. Critics argue that using the bodies without the consent of the decedents or families is wrong, and that the policy could exploit the poor. Wah. Wah. Wah. I don’t see any of them stepping up to pay for the remains and taking them home to enrich the garden (take a tip from Dorothea Puente).
In Ontario, Canada, there is a legal procedure for disposing of unclaimed remains. Claimants need not be blood relatives. A claimant is a person or organization that assumes responsibility for the remains. It is imperative that due diligence is conducted when searching for claimants. Due diligence includes:
- hospitals, family physicians, medical clinics, and pharmacies
- the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee
- social services
- Veterans Affairs
- foreign consulates
- community organizations or outreach programs such as:
- Good Neighbour’s Clubs
- mental health service clubs
- church affiliations
- Aboriginal Affairs
Along with finding relatives, there is a death investigation on every corpse.A death investigation ascertains how and why a person died. This information may help prevent other deaths in similar circumstances. Family members can receive results of a coroner’s autopsy and investigation. It’s rather creepy in a cool sort of way.
The Chief Coroner of Ontario is the most powerful man in the province. He can do a number of insanely cool things, such as shutting down major highways and blocking off streets in major cities whilst conducting a death investigation.
The Forensic Entymologist has a gross role. She or he is a “bug” person; collects samples of insects, eggs, and maggots from the remains, as well as samples from the immediate area. This can determine time of death and whether a body was moved from a crime scene and dumped elsewhere.
The Chief Forensic Pathologist is the boss-man of all pathologists in the province. Forensic pathologists perform autopsies and postmortem examinations to determine the cause of death. The FP also identifies disease. The FP works closely with the coroner.
Ronald Ditmar’s story ended in his home in Kentwood. He was 66. And alone. With no close family, and few people who called him friend, his body went unclaimed, his story untold. “His birthplace: unknown. His education: unknown. His ancestry: unknown. Occupation: unknown. Type of business or industry: unknown. Marital status: unknown. His father’s name: unknown. His mother’s name: unknown. About all that was known at the time of his burial was how he died — of chronic alcohol abuse, years of drinking. Before burying Ditmar, the medical examiner worked with police to look for his next of kin, anybody who cared, anybody who would give him a proper burial.They found nobody. It’s really sad and it seems like it’s unfortunate when our time comes, that we wouldn’t have someone to help us and be there with us,” Dr. Stephen Cohle, Kent County Medical Examiner.
Finally neighbours were found who could reveal details about Ditmar.
- He was born in Kent County, according to the county clerk’s office.
- Parents’ names: William and Evelyn Ditmar.
- Ancestry: Dutch. Both his parents were listed as “Dutch” in their death certificates.
- His father worked on the assembly line at White Consolidated Inc., — the old Kelvinator refrigerator plant on Clyde Park Avenue.
- And, so did Ronald Ditmar.
- His parents died in November 1997 of medical complications. They were both 79.
- Ronald was their only child and had never left home.
Pederson Funeral Home volunteer to claim Ditmar and give him a burial. They placed him in Rockford Cemetery. There was no procession. Four men who didn’t know him were his pall bearers. No friends, no relatives, no final words. The county learned his parents are buried side-by-side at the Georgetown Township cemetery, near a maple tree. The family bought three plots in 1967, one for dad, one for mom, and one, just to the left of mom, for their only son.
Case Number Two – Baby Doe
A little infant, advanced in decomposition yet embalmed, was found in a dumpster February 24, 2011 in Marion County, Indianapolis. The baby was subsequently brought to the Marion County morgue where she has yet to be claimed.
Case Number THree- Jane Doe
Her remains were found in 2001 on Mount Royal behind the Royal Victoria Hospital. She is thought to have been dead at least two years upon her discovery. Her bones showed no marks of violence, and no evidence of assault was found at the scene. The deceased, thought to have been 60 years old, was found wearing a surgical uniform. Her body remained in a freezer at the Surete du Quebec morgue on Parthenais St. for eight years, the longest resident on record at the Montreal morgue. Her body was finally buried last year, but the case remains open with no cause of death, suspects or victim identification.
Case Study Four – Jane Doe No. 2
JELLICO, Tenn. Nameless and faceless, her decomposing body appeared in Detective Eddie Barton’s mind each time he drove along Stinking Creek Road. Black female younger than 40. No scars. No tattoos.One gunshot wound to the head. Stab wounds. A discolored line about the width of a wedding band on one finger. Found Oct. 25, 1998, by a man collecting soda cans. That’s all Campbell County Sheriff’s Department detectives know But they haven’t forgotten the woman now buried in a Campbell County graveyard marked “Unknown.” Referred to by investigators as “Jane Doe No. 2,” she is one of the untold unidentified and unclaimed bodies found by law enforcement agencies in Tennessee.
Another woman is known as “Jane Doe No. 1.” More than 10 years ago she was found strangled, stabbed and dumped on an I-75 exit ramp. A nonprofit group, the Doe Network, put Campbell authorities in touch with their counterparts in El Paso, Texas. The woman was identified as Ada Elena Torres Smith. Finding her identity broke the Smith case open again. The murders of Smith and Jane Doe No. 2 may be connected. They were found a mile apart near Stinking Creek Road in consecutive years. About two miles downstream from Clark Center Park on Melton Hill Lake, two fishermen found a woman’s body floating beneath an undercut bank on March 6, 2000. The woman was estimated to be in her 20s and is known as the “Lady of the Lake.” It is believed the woman, who stood about 5 feet, 9 inches, may have frequented truck stops. Dental records showed she may have worn braces and frequented a dentist. She “was picked up or abducted by a local individual.” She may have then been drowned in Melton Hill Lake. Police believe her body was underwater for a few weeks before the fishermen found her.
Marci Bachmann was 16 when she ran away from her Vancouver, Washington home in May 1984. Although her remains were found a few months later—discovered in the woods near Deer Creek in Missoula, Montana—no one knew that the remains were hers.For nearly two decades, Dereck, Marci’s brother, searched newspapers and missing persons files and even hired a private investigator to find Marci. Finally, in 2004, a series of events brought him and his family the closure they were seeking. It began when a cold case detective in Missoula sent a femur from Deer Creek remains to the CHI lab. Scientists ran DNA tests on the bone fragments and uploaded the profile into the CODIS(mp) database. In King County, Washington, authorities working on an unrelated murder case came across Marci’s missing persons file. Detectives tracked down Marci’s mother, obtained a DNA sample from her, and also sent it to the CHI lab. When a database search indicated a potential match with the remains of the victim in the Deer Creek case, officials sent DNA from Marci’s brother and father to CHI for further tests. On April 6, 2006—more than 21 years after her body was unearthed from a shallow grave—Marci Bachmann was found. It was a tragicially ironic story that Marci left home and was killed within just weeks. Where it was the teenager was headed, she herself probably didn’t know, and she would never make it.
Case Study Six – Shawn Reilly
Melody Reilly’s brother, Shawn, was murdered in the summer of 2005. His body was dumped in a field in rural Bastrop County, Texas, and was extremely decomposed when found. A year later, the Center for Human Identification (CHI), at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, identified Shawn’s body from his DNA. Melody wrote to George Adams, of CHI stating: My brother, Shawn, was an amazing and special person who ended up in the company of the wrong, and the worst, people. What our family has gone through is almost the worst you can imagine—wondering where Shawn was, hoping the remains were not his. The only thing worse is the terrible thought of not knowing where my brother is now. I am attaching a photo of Shawn so maybe you and they can have a nicer image of him. (couldn’t be worse)
Case Study Seven – Susan Powell
Susan Cox Powell was last seen on December 6, 2009. She was from West Valley City, Utah Her whose disappearance garnered national press attention, and police investigation is ongoing as of 2012 primarily as a missing persons rather than a murder case. Significant public scrutiny focused on her husband, Josh Powell, who was considered a person of interest.Although there was considerable suspicion and circumstantial evidence, Josh was never named as a suspect nor charged with a crime in the investigation. Josh’s father Steven Powell was very close to Josh and, according to his journal, had a sexual obsession with Susan. He was a person of interest, though he was never formally charged in connection with Susan’s case. Josh and Steven Powell claimed that Susan had abandoned her family due to mental illness, and also that she had left with another man. Susan’s family rejected these claims as being unsupported by any evidence. Josh lost custody of the couple’s two young children shortly after Steven, who was living with Josh and the children, was arrested on voyeurism and child pornography charges (creep).
During a supervised visit with his children on February 5, 2012, Josh locked out the social worker, took a hatchet to his children, and killed himself and his children by setting his home on fire. Susan is still legally a missing person as the case is not closed, but has been widely presumed dead at the hands of her husband. After a brief investigation, officials confirmed the explosion had been deliberately planned. The official cause of death for Josh and the boys was determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning, though the coroner also noted that both children had significant chopping injuries on the head and neck. A hatchet was recovered near Josh’s body. Friends and relatives of Josh Powell told authorities that he had contacted them by email minutes before the incident to say “goodbye“.On May 29, 2012, Laura Ling hosted an “E! Investigates” television program on the “Powell Family Tragedy“. It concluded that Josh was a deeply disturbed man who was likely responsible for the deaths of his entire family. A friend recalled that “Susan came to me and told me it became abusive physically. That he had shoved her and slapped her and tried to lock her out of the house.”
Case Study Eight – Jane Doe – Unidentified Murder Victim
Perhaps she fell in with a bad crowd, the worst kind of people. Perhaps she lived with the father of her unborn child, the killer. Perhaps it was simply a horrid, random attack. Who knows? Her remains, and the dead infant’s body,were cut into three pieces and stuffed into three suitcases, Her torso was cut in half. Her nose and ears were missing.The torso was covered with a flimsy newspaper. First she wa strangled, then she was shot in the neck. You gotta be one sick bas*&^%tard……..
Jane Doe Documentary – 5 parts (no, not the bodies, you weirdo – the film) Approximately 50 minutes. This is a documentary about the discovery of one woman named by police as Jane Doe. The woman was in her mid-20’s, killed 3 – 5 days before she was found, her body dumped in a different location, a newspaper stuffed in her throat. Nasty.
The most frustrating aspect of discovering bodies and returning them to relatives in hopes of bringing “closure” is exactly that: returning bodies to the families. It’s not possible when no one knows the identity of the victim or the family. Think of all the relatives and friends seeking missing loved ones and the sad irony that they have been found by a police county somewhere, locked in a morgue for a number of weeks while police search for the anguished family, then finally the remains cremated. Never the twain shall meet again and the family will go to their graves without ever knowing what happened to their loved one. Not cool.
There are unclaimed persons database sites for every state in America and for all provinces and territories in Canada. Family and friends searching for missing loved ones can conduct a free search. There is a database of identified bodies that can also be searched. Some of the databases provide gruesome photographs (re-touched). Have fun.