Photo illustration by James McGinnis

Moms and dads, newborns and military veterans, murder victims and Holocaust survivors, are sitting in local morgues and unmarked graves in the Philadelphia suburbs.

Hundreds of unclaimed dead — an invisible, growing burden — force local governments to spend more time, resources, and tax money. Coroners have become the undertakers of last resort.

Who were these unclaimed souls? For months, reporters Jo Ciavaglia and James McGinnis labored to find and tell their stories.

We found some served in World War II. Others died on the job, thousands of miles from home. A few remain total mysteries with no public footprint.

The reasons the dead go unclaimed are as different as the ways they died. But they share similar traits including poverty, family estrangement, and isolation during their lives.

Nationwide, no standard exists for identifying and processing the abandoned and indigent dead. State protocols can be vague, inconsistent and outdated. Clerical errors, name changes and misplaced records make finding family of the dead more challenging.

Even if next-of-kin is found, there is no legal requirement they take responsibility.

Read on for more about The Unclaimed.

Grave concerns: Unclaimed dead tax county resources

About five years ago, a man walked into the Montgomery County Coroner’s office with his dead grandparents inside a USPS Priority Mail box with a return address in Miami.

Those ashes, of Lucille Bortner, 57, and Leroy Bortner, 65, who died two months apart in 1986, now sit on a metal shelf in a county storage room along with dozens of other boxes containing the remains of others who have never been claimed by family members or friends.

The unclaimed dead are a growing burden for local governments. Caseloads have shot up dramatically over the past decade. Counties and municipalities are forced to spend more time, resources and tax dollars on handling unclaimed remains, often without the ability to be reimbursed, and with few state standards.

Read more

Unclaimed souls: WW2 vets, Holocaust survivors, murder victims

After six years of service in the U.S. Army, Leo Murphy might be buried in a veterans cemetery. Yet, his cremated remains sit on a shelf in the Bucks County morgue.

The name Margot Kowalski appears on a Nazi list of Jews whose citizenship was revoked under Adolf Hitler, while other records, supplied by the Burlington County Medical Examiner’s office, suggest she was buried in 2003 in an unmarked grave.

Alejandro Guerra was brutally stabbed in a public park in Norristown, according to news reports. Lori Sheridan, of Pottstown, was murdered with a shotgun blast to the abdomen, officials said. Todd Donohue, of Plymouth, was hit so hard by a Pontiac Sunfire that it left hemorrhaging in his brain, and fractured his spine and pelvis, according to police.

None got a funeral.

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Coroner reunites granddaughter with late grandmother

Frances Salinger died unnoticed, her cremated remains awaiting burial with others whose bodies were donated to science.

Then, a persistent deputy coroner helped reunite a fractured family.

Salinger was 92 years old when she died in March 2015. The nursing home where she lived was in the process of obtaining guardianship of Salinger, and no next of kin could be found.

The Montgomery County Coroner’s Office, where unclaimed bodies are sent, couldn't find family, either.

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Veteran could have gone unclaimed. Why he didn't.

The combat veteran had a simple request: “All I am asking is that my body be buried with the respect I earned.”

David L. Bauer made his plea in the same two-page, undated handwritten letter that he sent to four people in May 1999.

Bucks County Director of Military Affairs Dan Fraley was only months into his new county job when the letter arrived in his mail.

“My name is David L. Bauer and upon receipt of this letter I will most likely be dead…” it started.

Read more

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Click names and explore records for the unclaimed dead. The list begins with individuals who have been claimed. To quickly locate a name, click (Ctrl F) on PC and (CMD F) for MAC.
Johnnie Jenkins (CLAIMED)
John S. Magyar (CLAIMED)
Richard McVey (CLAIMED)
Donald E. Hangen (CLAIMED)
Michael Cappetta (CLAIMED)
Gage Doughty (CLAIMED)
Rosellen Smith (CLAIMED)
Lee Schantz (CLAIMED)
Richard Wilburn (CLAIMED)
Albert Reamy (CLAIMED)
Steven Williams (CLAIMED)
Louis Filosi (CLAIMED)
Candis L. Horsey (CLAIMED)
Theresa M. Morabito (CLAIMED)
David M. Landis (CLAIMED)
Larry John Hopkins (CLAIMED)
John Nace (CLAIMED)
Suzanne Marie Triano (CLAIMED)
Emmitt Livingston III (CLAIMED)
John Seyler (CLAIMED)
Helen Rodenbaugh (CLAIMED)
Kathleen Clara Oliphant (CLAIMED)
Daniel Mitchell (CLAIMED)
Cecilia Castorina (CLAIMED)
Anne Silverman (CLAIMED)
Joseph M. Coia (CLAIMED)
Beverly Franks (CLAIMED)
Janet Getson (CLAIMED)
Charlene Ann Palko (CLAIMED)
Kathleen C. Collins (CLAIMED)
Diane Burd (CLAIMED)
Judith Camiel (CLAIMED)
Peter Camiel (CLAIMED)
Donald E. Hangen (CLAIMED)
Lori Sheridan (CLAIMED)
Connie Dumas (CLAIMED)
James P. Smith (CLAIMED)
Randolph Rankins (CLAIMED)
James Paxson Reinhart (CLAIMED)
Danielle Kirkpatrick (CLAIMED)
David Hock (CLAIMED)
Charles Thomas Boultbee (CLAIMED)
Maryanne Viereck (CLAIMED)
Richard Geisinger (CLAIMED)
Michelle McGinnis (CLAIMED)
Patricia A. Harris (CLAIMED)
Norman Flam (CLAIMED)
Jack Allison Foust (CLAIMED)
Roscoe Fellman (CLAIMED)
Tammy Tyler (CLAIMED)
Geraldine Scheers (CLAIMED)
Benjamin Harrison (CLAIMED)
Leroy Bortner (CLAIMED)
Lucille Bortner (CLAIMED)
Eugene Gorski (CLAIMED)
James Merinar (CLAIMED)
John M. McClintock (CLAIMED)
Leo Murphy (CLAIMED)
Marcel Sol (CLAIMED)
Eileen Benenati (CLAIMED)
James Taormina (CLAIMED)
Edward Ryan Jr. (CLAIMED)
Ronald Smith (2022)
Eri Rupp (2022)
Marietta Oscapinski (2022)
James Pullen (2022)
Hasford Altman (2022)
Eugene Johnson (2022)
Kenneth Russell (2022)
Joseph Rokis (2022)
Gary Caldararo (2022)
Patrick Mooney (2022)
Rosemarie Godlewski (2022)
Richard Phipps (2022)
Marie Urban (2022)
Kenneth Rollins (2022)
Robert Wagner (2022)
Edmund Luddy (2022)
Ronnie Cureton (2022)
Valarie B. Kogut (2022)
Richard Sykes (2022)
Guy M. Atkinson Sr. (2022)
Ralph E. Burbage (2022)
Joan Doyle (2022)
Nicolas Topciov (2022)
David Stone (2022)
Margaret Crane (2022)
Charles W. Phalen Jr. (2022)
Matthew Stank (2022)
Patricia Keller (2022)
Evangeline Eck (2022)
Ralph Baker (2021)
Joseph Hill (2021)
Michelle Kellow (2021)
John Williams (2021)
Willie Schill (2021)
Steven E. Silvestera (2021)
Christine Rosborough (2021)
Mark E. Lebofsky (2021)
David Minoske (2021)
Paul Newman (2021)
Gary Grimes (2021)
Larry Sinclair (2021)
Tammi L. Levengood (2021)
Baby boy Herrera (2021)
Julio Cesar Santiago (2021)
Terry Lee Burns (2021)
Leslie Dale Reed (2021)
Frida Meo (2021)
Theresa Donovan (2021)
Harold O. Hickman (2021)
Thomas J. Razzi (2021)
Russell Joseph Kearney (2021)
Carol Jean Russell (2021)
Carl Lewandowski (2021)
Alfred Joseph Frascatore Jr. (2021)
John Wayne Miller Jr. (2021)
Diana Burton (2020)
Vivian Sharer (2020)
Mack Westlove (2020)
George Smith (2020)
Richard Frank Haines (2020)
William A. Jackson (2020)
Wallace Yoh (2020)
Baby Girl Edwards (2020)
Michael Crusemire (2020)
William H. Crawford (2020)
Baby Boy Hohl (2020)
Robert Arthur Larocca (2020)
Andrew Yusko (2020)
Eugene J. Williams Jr. (2020)
Catherine D. Taylor (2020)
Jeffrey Steven Valentik (2020)
Robert W. Frisbie (2020)
Esther Powell (2021)
Barbara Reeder (2020)
James Hargrove (2020)
Clifford Fenstermaker (2020)
Stephanie Norris (2020)
Linda Smith (2020)
Barbara Reader (2020)
Fredericka Grant (2020)
Wilbur Ruhl (2020)
Joseph Kreszwick (2020)
Lori Jean Lindbom (2020)
Robert Gemi (2020)
William C. Smith (2020)
Arthur Williams (2020)
Diane Sabol (2020)
Brian Rich Morgan (2020)
Gerhard Sweetman (2020)
Julia H. Leedom (2020)
Larry Gall (2020)
Francis S. Isaac (2020)
Dorothy A. Campanella (2020)
Ida Hodum (2020)
Brian Moyer (2020)
Anthony Gentile (2020)
Mary Gothe (2020)
Fremont D. Anderson Jr. (2020)
Ann Sparks (2020)
Jayme Cochran (2020)
Robert Burns (2020)
Dorothy Weiss (2020)
Carol Sullick (2019)
Barbara Broughton 2019
Herman C. Ashley (2019)
Jose Carrasquillo (2019)
Francine Holtz (2019)
Laura A. Wagner (2019)
Dwayne VanHart (2019)
James E. Schwartz (2019)
Samuel Riland (2019)
Gail Page (2019)
Marjorie McMahon (2019)
James E. Novak (2019)
Lester J. Boyer, Jr. (2019)
Joseph Venezia (2019)
Kevin Alexander (2019)
William Rumford (2019)
Margaret Haines (2019)
Robyn Shadoe (2019)
Robert Smith (2019)
Jacob Hessler (2019)
Ronald W. Schnable (2019)
John Wood Gotwals (2019)
Carl Stevens Jr. (2019)
David G. Thomas (2019)
Wayne M. Donnelly (2011)
Edward White (2016)
Melvin Clement (2013)
Joel T. Scott (2014)
Damir Norgorodsky (2002)
Steven Ashman (2003)
Richard Stott (2017)
Ricardo White (2017)
John Albert Quillin (2018)
Tennyson Taffe (2017)
Dana Farrell (2018)
Ellis Riddick (2018)
Larry Dill (2018)
Michael Venezia (2018)
Thomas O'Shaughnessy (2018)
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John C. Barrow (2013)
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Rita C. Vega (2018)
Constance (Wingate) Maley (2018)
Nina Harris (2019)
John Parker (2018)
Thomas J. Morris (2018)
Stephen Suckey (2018)
Eunice (Jester) Lynch (2018)
Dolores Scott (2018)
William Storm (2018)
Marguerite Harris (2018)
Jorge Sanchez (2018)
Lawrence W. Plews (2018)
Scott Storm (2018)
Bettie K. Tate (2018)
Deborah Martin (2018)
Francis X. Worthington (2018)
Jeffrey Alan Hosbach (2018)
Elizabeth Ashmore (2019)
Frederick Walters (2018)
William Hunt ( 2018)
Nicholas Walter Kerrigan (2008)
Michael A. Machillo (2011)
Michael S. Murray (2009)
Regina Marie Chambers (2011)
Lane A. Schmidt (2014)
Casimir Shynkaruk (1999)
Thomas William Patterson (2007 )
Richard E. Brooks (2015)
Margot Ann Marie Ashman (2003)
[First name unknown] LeBlanc
Charles Ludwig (2009)
Lorraine "Laverne" Duvinage (2011)
Charles Brooks (2006)
Regina Bell Jones (2012)
Ronald R. Davis (2011)
James Yiashia (2007)
John W. Warner (2006)
Gerald S. Tokarczyk (2004)
Mary Stephens (2008)
Peteris "Peter" Smirnovs (2005)
Jose Gonzalez (2002)
Katharine McMullin (2008)
Helen Mae Wisler (2012)
Andrea M. Tonti (2013)
Alejandro Guerra (2007)
Carl Elvin Brewer (2009)
Dolores Marie Mayer (2011)
Jan Heiko Gernaat (2014)
Maria Feher (2014)
Z. Broad
Todd Donohue (2016)
Walter Paul Zahnhausen (2005)
Frederick L. Johns (2004)
Joseph J. Rivero Sr. (2013)
Caroline S. Reiser (2010)
Isidoro Santiago (2013)
Harold A. Holmes (2010)
Paul Cereby (2013)
Robert L. Pettit (2013)
John C. Morgan (2013)
Ramon A. Moreno (2011)
Joseph F. Miller (2010)
Raymond H. Matlack (2015)
Joseph D. Manzo (2012)
Maria Jimenez (2010)
Christopher Jewell (2013)
Anna Henderson (2013)
Judith Hall (2011)
John W. Gale (2010)
Charles Eckert (2011)
John J. Duffy (2010)
Elaine F. Devlin (2012)
Daniel W. Degville (2008)
Kenneth C. Degothseir (2011)
Norman Davis Jr. (2012)
Richard A. Coney (2009)
Joseph Angelo Cioppi (2014)
Pao Chang (2011)
Pamela A. Burns (2009)
Marie Bringola (2010)
Murray Ronald Bressler (2008)
Denise L. Black (2011)
Charles Bartholomew (2014)
Richard S. Arrison (2010)
Igor Yutsis (2017)
Robert Harold Yoos (2015)
Arthur A. Wentworth Jr. (2008)
Charles C. Way (2015)
Douglas L. Walston (2013)
Rafael Urena (2013)
Marie L. Taylor (2015)
Kareem Sunra (2016)
Katherine Smith-Beene (1996)
Crystal Smith (2013)
Leroy Singer (2005)
Wayne Simon (2016)
Carlton Paul Sharp (2017)
Guillermo Salas (2006)
Roberto Rosario (2013)
Joseph Ritter (2011)
Clifford Archer Pullen Sr. (2005)
Barbara Prickett (2011)
Frank Polidori (2015)
James Pitrelli (2016)
Leonard Joseph Pennise (2005)
John Moore (2006)
Joyce Maggs (2017)
Frank E. Maclaine (2014)
Elijah Lawrence (2016)
Gary Landis (2017)
Anthony Laino (2010)
John Koteny (2014)
Gregory Kavanagh (2002)
Theodore Jones (2010)
Arthur G. Jones (2009)
Charles Hunt (2002)
Joseph Heber (2011)
Jane Hillman (1999)
Judge Head (1982)
George R. Grant (1998 )
William Gorman (2003)
Elizabeth Gonczi (2014 )
Virginia Freeland (2015)
Charles France (2015)
Maurice Ford (2014)
Barbara Jane Donacoff (2007)
Katherine Dennis (2003)
William Corbett (2004)
Michael Conlan (2002)
Melvin Claigborne (1990)
Kelly Cisney (2005)
Ciriaco Chavez (1998)
Michael Carrino (2017)
John Burr (2017)
Raymond Burke (1991)
Joan I. Bruno (2004)
Catherine Bogner (1998)
Stuart Blaetz (2015)
Robert Bennett (2016)
Reuben Baron (2014)
Walter Ancrum
Joel D. Alpheaus Jr. (2008)
William Alloway (2017)
Ruth Allen (2001)
Robert L. Schusterman (2010)
James C. Sanders (2011)
Helena Gail Rybka (Ristaino) (2012)
Daisy Roane (2010)
Michael Quinn (2008)
Gladys G. Payne (1995)
Thomas Paioletti (2005)
Katsuko W. Padgett (1998)
James Myer Nugba (2005)
Gabriel Noe (2002)
Barbara Nelson (1997)
Francis J. McCloskey (1989)
Ann Marie (Boell) Martino (1995)
John Manns (2008)
Albert A. Mannino (2005)
Lewis Williamson (2008)
Kenneth Lane (2012)
Constance W. Johnson (2003)
Curtis Hardgrove (2007)
George J. Dupont (1996)
Michael James Checccio (1996)
Robert W. Caggiano (2009)
Malcolm Richard Bright (2007)
Bruce Allen Babcock (2009)
Elise Alcott (2005)
Philip Minoske (2017)
Vincent Doran (2017)
Kevin Johnson (2017)
Michael Donato (2017)
Daniel Griffith (2017)
Patricia Walmlsley (2017)
Wesley Grisdale (2017)
Henry Brown (2017)
Rosires Raff (2017)
David Supplee (2017)
Darrin Wagner (2017)
Robert Cranford (2017)
Bruce Craft (2016)
Thelma Davis (2016 )
William Thompson (2016)
Frances Megeish (2016)
Richard Engle (2016)
Howard Shapiro (2016)
Gerald Olson (2016)
Donald Jones (2016)
Robert Baines (2015)
John Finch (2015)
Theodore Pahle (2015)
Mary Taylor (2015)
Fern Barndt (2015)
Melvin Imes Jr. (2015)
George Peters Jr (2014)
Charles Schwanz (2014)
Leslie Labodzinski (2014)
David Arnold (2014)
Elaine Kein (2013)
James Ronald Lehman (2013)
David McConnell (2013)
Jeffrey Cowgill (2013)
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Carol Sargent (2012)
Donald Irving (2012)
Joanne Newman (2011)
Robert Simpson (2009)
Theresa Entrekin (2008)
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Lufene Etienne (2012)
Steven Joseph DiSalvo (2007)
John J. Ball (2012)
Raymond Heinle (2017)
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Robert Gay (2017)
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William Simpson III (2017)
William Barker (2017)
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William C. Rothrock Jr. (2017)
Stacey F. Bell (2017)
Thomas Bethea (2017)
Thomas Gaughan (2017)
Dolores Kraut (2017)
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Joseph Goldstein (2017)
Sharon L. Howard (2017)
Luis Mora (2017)
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Robert C. Ruehl III (2016)
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Michelle Culbreath (2014)
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George Collins (2014)
Richard A. Schaffer (2014)
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Henry C. Weller (2010)
Frank Hornug (2009)
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Robert McFeeters (2018)
Alfred Wainwright (2018)
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Billy Hogan (2018)
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