Names are known, yet thousands of unclaimed remains stay in funeral homes

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 3:05 p.m. MDT

Jenet Mills, office manager for Garner Funeral Home & Salt Lake Mausoleum, said over the lifetime of the mausoleum there have been more than 100 named, but unclaimed remains.

Mills said they set aside a crypt in their mausoleum where the unclaimed urns are stored. In the 15 years she's worked at the funeral home Mills said she has "only ever had maybe two that have come" looking for the remains.

She said the funeral home keeps the unclaimed remains for one year in a utility closet before moving them to a holding crypt. The funeral home has a contract with the Utah State Prison and Mills said most of the remains they have are because family of the prisoners want nothing to do with them, or they have no family.

"The contract with the prison is that after a year we can dispose of the remains but we don't feel right about doing that so we just stick them in our holding crypt," she said.

Greg Newlon, owner of Independent Professional Service, said they keep five unclaimed remains at a time. If he gets a sixth urn he tries to contact the family of the oldest one left at his business. He said the family usually gives him further instructions, but on two occasions he hasn't been able to contact family and proceeded to scatter the ashes.

Brent Russon, owner of Russon Brothers Mortuary, said the cremated remains of two individuals that are five or six years old sit in his mortuary that the family has chosen not to pick up.

"We'll hold onto them as long as we can," Russon said.

Michael O'Donnell, owner of Neil O'Donnell and Sons Mortuary, said there are at most 20 unclaimed remains at his mortuary, despite the 60-day disclaimer in the cremation authorization paperwork.

"We kind of wait and try to double-check with families as best we can," he said.

Every couple of years O'Donnell said he will scatter the ashes in a beautiful forest.

"The mortuary is not a proper place of disposition," he said.

Mike Leavitt, owner of Leavitt's Mortuary, said there are almost 200 unclaimed cremated remains at his mortuary. He said they have done cremations since 1934 and in some cases the people are indigents, other times the family never comes back to claim them.

"We have two crypts up in our mausoleum that we've placed those unclaimed remains in," he said. "We've had people come back 15 years after (we put them in the crypt)."

Brian Bennion, deputy director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, said the county works with Carvers Mortuary on indigent cremations. He said unclaimed remains are something the health department needs to look into.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” he said. “We’re going to have some discussion about it.”

Bennion said families or next of kin will claim about 90 percent of the remains, but occasionally they can’t find next of kin.

“So there’s maybe 20 per year that are just sitting there,” he said. “(Funeral homes have) just kept them, but they would like to work out a long-term situation. I think it’s something we need to talk about and explore.”

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar

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