- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - It’s been years since a formal count, but officials now estimate the number of people who have died in Greene County with their remains unclaimed, sitting in a cabinet, is now about 200.

The last count at Springfield Mortuary Service showed 182, but that number continues to grow as more of the county’s deceased persons are not tended to by family.

Compared to the number of deaths in the county in a year, the number of unclaimed bodies is relatively low, said Tom Van De Berg, chief investigator in the county’s medical examiner office.

But, unfortunately, the phenomenon of remains left unclaimed is still more common than many realize, said Jennifer Simmons of Springfield Mortuary Service. The company is located in a one-story building on Patterson Avenue and contracts with the county to transport bodies from the scene of a death to a location for investigations.

“There’s no typical case,” Simmons said. “Every person’s story is different.”

In some cases, the county can’t find the person’s family. Other times, the family won’t, or can’t, pay for services. In some rare cases, a body can’t be identified.

In late 2006, a homeless man, about 60 years old, came into a Springfield hospital after suffering a stroke.

He didn’t have any identification or give the hospital his name. He told the first responder to “call me old man.”

But officials made note of his physical appearance - no teeth and his right arm amputated at the elbow, where he wore a hook prosthesis instead.

Officials had fingerprints, but they didn’t match any databases in the area, Van De Berg said.

The body stayed at Springfield Mortuary for about six months before it had to be cremated to make space; the cremated remains stayed there for years.

Just last month, the man’s daughter was searching on the Missouri State Highway Patrol website for information when she came across the description of the man she believed was her father.

She contacted officials and directed them to Texas, where they were able to get a positive match on the fingerprints. After more than seven years, John Doe was identified and his remains were sent home with family, Van De Berg said.

But for remains to suddenly be claimed is very rare.

Greene County’s cache of ashes grows.

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