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Remembering Los Angeles' Unclaimed Dead

People scatter rose petals during an interfaith graveside memorial service for the mass burial of the cremated remains of 1,464 people whose bodies were never claimed at the Los Angeles County Crematory and Cemetery on December 4, 2013. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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A sympathy card is signed by the Los Angeles County Coroner at an interfaith graveside memorial service. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Every year in December the Los Angeles County holds a moving memorial service for the thousand or so dead whose remains are unclaimed for one reason or another years after their death. Most of the 1,428 people who died in Los Angeles in 2011, were cremated by the county and are still unclaimed are on track to be buried in the Los Angeles County's cemetery in Boyle Heights this December—unless someone claims them first. The Los Angeles Times took on a project to let the public know a little bit more about these cases in the form of an interactive graphic.

Most of the unclaimed dead have names and birthdays and genders, but there are eight John and Jane Does. There were 137 babies, some of them stillborns. There are 622 people who were over 65 years old. Sixteen were homicides. There were nearly twice as many unclaimed men as women: 853 men and 436 women.

Sometimes the coroner's office can't track down any relatives. Sometimes the long-lost relatives they do find aren't interested in claiming the remains. Joyce Kato, an investigator at the Los Angeles County coroner's office, told the Times: "We see that more and more every year. They don't even feel that they're obligated to make arrangements for a long-lost sibling."

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Some relatives care about the death certificate so that they can claim inheritances or insurance but don't pick up the remains. The cost is off-putting to some. To pick up the ashes, it's typically $352 for a case handled by the coroner and $466 for others, though the county waives the fee in some cases.

The Times tracked down the son of one man on the list, John Wheelock, who died at Union Station on a train ride. His son Aaron Wheelock, who lives in Idaho, said that he hasn't been able to afford a trip to pick up the ashes and the county wouldn't ship them to him. (Though the Times says that some arrangement seems to have been made, because Wheelock won't be a part of the mass burial.)

The county says soon all of the public will be able to access these records about the county's unclaimed dead, which for now are handwritten into a log. But this year, the Los Angeles Times says they had to hire a lawyer to get the records.

If you would like to claim the ashes of an unclaimed person, call the county morgue at (323) 409-7161. If you would like to honor the dead, the county's service is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 10 at the Los Angeles County Cemetery, 3301 E. 1st St., Boyle Heights.