The Lewis County coroner displayed the urns of the unclaimed dead for the news media in hopes a bit of publicity might turn up relatives.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Anyone out there missing a grandmother? A cousin? Maybe a great uncle?
More than a dozen individuals who have died with no family to claim them for burial remain in the custody of the Lewis County Coroner’s Office.
Over the past 14 years, each unclaimed person has been cremated, their ashes placed in a a temporary plastic urn or even just a cardboard box, and then shelved.
Many of them were older when they died, although David J. Robertson, for example, was just 48 when he passed away at a Centralia nursing home in June of 2010.
Two local men who passed away earlier this year are among them.
Some may have been estranged from their family, or simply had no living relatives, according to Coroner Warren McLeod.
“One gentleman we spoke to his neighbor, he said no, he doesn’t have any family,” McLeod said.
It’s been somewhat distressing to McLeod and employees at the coroner’s office that so many have not gotten a proper burial.
“It’s frustrating,” McLeod said. “I mean, these folks have been stored in the back store room.”
“You gotta figure somebody somewhere loves them,” he said.
When McLeod took over as elected coroner in January 2011, there were many unclaimed sets of cremated remains being stored in the office.
Last year, volunteers worked with the coroner to take the military veterans among them to be buried at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.
Since then, McLeod’s deputy coroners have checked and re-checked and found relatives of just a few.
Just last week, they matched up an urn containing a woman’s remains with her son who lives in Olympia, according to McLeod.
“When he was contacted, he said, oh, I thought someone else in the family took care of her,” McLeod said.
Five families have been found in the past several months, he said.
Now that virtually all avenues have been exhausted, the 16 remaining individuals will finally go to their final resting spot.
Claquato Cemetery west of Chehalis has donated a plot. A burial service is in the planning for next month.
The 16 urns will be placed in a shared concrete liner in a part of the cemetery known as the county section.
McLeod said he was told that’s where the county buried people who were unclaimed from the 1930s until the mid-1990s. He said he didn’t know why that practice ended.
Just in case in the future, a relative turns up who wants to retrieve their loved one, each urn will be sealed separately with a copy of the death certificate.
Their names won’t be engraved on any headstone, but the grave will be marked, and the cemetery will keep a listing as well as copies of the death certificates on file, according to McLeod.
The burial and a non-denominational memorial service is tentatively set for the week of Aug. 20.
If any of them do have a family member who wants to claim them, there is still time. The coroner thought publishing a list could possibly turn up more relatives.
Some of them still have friends in the area, just not family who could legally claim their bodies, according to the coroner’s office.
“Once we have the date, if people from the public want to come, they’re welcome,” McLeod said.
The following individuals are scheduled to be buried at Claquato:
• Lawrence T. Erickson, Centralia: 7-10-1915 to 5-4-1998
• Richard Farrell, Randle: 3-31-1943 to 10-26-1999
• Delores Fletcher, Centralia: 10-11-1928 to 3-24-2000
• Mary Katherine Gibson, Chehalis: 5-17-1936 to 3-31-2000
• Gladys Vivian Pitts, Centralia: 10-5-1915 to 10-6-2003
• Hiram Mahlon Coleman, Pe Ell: 7-22-1935 to 1-18-2004
• Edward M. Dombrowe, Chehalis: 4-22-1924 to 7-15-2004
• Harry Edwin Fields Jr., Chehalis: 8-25-1946 to 10-17-2004
• Stella Richardson, Centralia: 3-7-1928 to 8-12-2006
• Michael S. Edin, Centralia: 2-20-1944 to 10-5-2009
• David J. Robertson, Centralia: 6-7-1962 to 7-27-2010
• Eugene Briese, transient Chehalis area: 7-1-1943 to 12-6-2010
• Gary M. Ward, Centralia: 8-23-1961 to 6-15-2010
• William Dane, Centralia: 8-17-1942 to 3-1-2011
• Richard Fisher, Centralia: 12-16-1938 to 1-14-2012
• Curt Lynn Allison, aka Curtis Hughes, Curtis: 11-17-1950 to 4-7-2012