October 4, 1997 in Nation/World

County Shelves Plan For Unclaimed Dead Ashes Sit In Boxes, Awaiting A Bureaucratic Judgment Day

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Sometime in life, Betty Dafler had a mother. She may have had a brother or a sister, a child or a lover.

But she died alone, with no one to cry, no one to utter a eulogy, no one to claim her body or pay the bills.

Dafler’s ashes were poured in a cardboard box and placed on a shelf in the Spokane County Coroner’s Office, next to pens and pencils, staples and tape.

Likewise, no one wept over the deaths of John Morris, Howard Riley, Harold Rominger and 10 others, including one man whose identity isn’t certain.

Their ashes sit on the shelf in brown-and-white boxes indistinguishable from the one containing Dafler’s remains. They are stacked like shoeboxes in a Nordstrom stock room.

Thirty-one more boxes are shelved at Riverside Mausoleum in Riverside Memorial Park.

Until 1993, the state paid to bury unclaimed bodies. That ended in a push to balance the budget.

Now, the law says counties must keep such remains for three years, in case a family member comes looking.

Dafler’s been dead for four years. What’s to become of her ashes now?

Coroner Dexter Amend wants the county to buy ground where Dafler’s ashes and those from other unclaimed corpses can be tilled into the soil.

It would be marked with a monument and given more respect than a box on a shelf, Amend said.

If a great-grandson ever comes looking for Dafler, he’ll want to leave with her ashes, not visit a common grave, said Duane Broyles, general manager of Fairmount Memorial Association. It happens sometimes, years after a person dies, he said.

Two years ago, Fairmount offered to store the remains for $50 a box. The cemetery agreed to keep the ashes at least 10 years, but would probably never get rid of them, said Broyles.

The county sent 15 boxes to Fairmount initially and 16 later. But the coroner’s office has paid less than a third of the $1,550 it owes, Broyles said.

The county should pay the rest of its bill, and put the other 14 boxes at Riverside or in another mausoleum, Broyles said.

For now, the fate of the boxes is undecided. A decision may take awhile. The county has streets to pave, crooks to catch, parks to build and other urgent needs.

There’s no hurry. The boxes don’t take up much room.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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