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California and the West

Coroner Launches Internet Site on Unclaimed Bodies

Searches: Office sets up database of people it has identified but whose relatives it has been unable to reach.

April 29, 1999|JOHN M. GLIONNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"But we realized people might be reluctant to look for a missing person last seen in Eureka on a coroner's list from San Bernardino," said Emon, a 45-year-old former police detective with a penchant for computers. "So we decided to create a whole new Web site exclusively for information on unclaimed people that families could access anywhere in the world."

He hopes that through media coverage and assistance from coroner's associations and missing persons groups, medical examiners worldwide will get word of the Web site and send data about their unclaimed bodies.

Los Angeles coroners already have hundreds of cases they plan to post on the Web site.

"We think this is going to be a big help to families," said Tolbert. "Because people now looking for a body have to check each of 58 counties in California--and think about how many counties there are nationwide. They have to call each one and ask if they have a deceased. It's torturous work for a grieving family."

Cartwright said the Web site could provide the missing link when police departments fail to share information on cases when bodies are found and identified. "Often, officers are so busy they don't pass on information about an identified body to police colleagues a few miles away, let alone across state borders," she said. She hopes that coroners will do a better job.

"Police searching for missing children have found out many years later that the child's body or cremated remains has been inside a morgue just a few miles way, languishing there for years while the family has searched and searched," she said.

Tolbert said burying a body without notifying relatives also frustrates investigators.

"I have the body, I have a name. I know the guy's whole story, who he lived with, where he worked, even where he's from. But there's one little thing missing, who his exact next of kin are and where I can find them," he said. "When you've worked a case for two or three months and everything just dries up, it makes you crazy."

Coroners from across the state have begun to forward their lists of unclaimed bodies to Emon. In tiny Del Norte County, the caseload consists of one person.

"We don't have that many in our area, everybody knows everyone else pretty much," said Joanne Goodlin, an investigator with the Del Norte County coroner's office. "This is the first one that's stumped us in quite a long while."

The victim is a 69-year-old transient named Walter Raymond Silva, a man with a personal trail stretching from New England to Florida to Seattle, who authorities believe has three estranged children out there. Somewhere.

"Sometimes family members like to know," Goodlin said. "If you had a father who became dislocated from the family because of differences or lifestyle, after so many years wouldn't you want to know if he was alive or dead?" she asked.

"Some people wouldn't, they couldn't care less. But some want to know. I know I would."

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