Kane coroner wants to give unclaimed remains a proper burial
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2013 6:16PM
Kane County Coroner Rob Russell shows the 47 cremated remains that sit unclaimed in his offices storage area on Thursday, March 7, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 3:22PM
I didn’t know whether to make a joke about the Halloween decorations being stored on a nearby shelf or recite a quiet Hail Mary Thursday, especially when I cradled a tiny white box that held the ashes of a newborn baby.
Looking at the containers of cremated remains in the overcrowded storage garage of the Kane County Coroner’s Office brings out a mix of emotions. Which is one reason newly elected Coroner Rob Russell wants to do something about these cremains that have long been unclaimed, including those of a woman named Celia Sturm who died in December of 1952.
There are 47 containers with these remains. The half-dozen boxes holding the ashes of babies are all but weightless; those with adult remains are so heavy it takes two hands to lift.
All have been identified. All come with death certificates. There is no suspicion of foul play. They just need a final resting place other than a dusty shelf in a cluttered government building.
“I feel there is a sense of urgency to do what is right and restore some integrity,” said Russell, who took over this scandal-plagued office three months ago. “I care about life ... about people. They all need a respectable burial.”
The new coroner hopes to accomplish that task in a couple of ways. In some cases, family members wanted nothing to do with the remains, and there’s no law forcing them to take ownership. But in other cases, survivors can’t be found. And the crooner’s office hopes this publicity might generate leads that will help connect loved ones to the deceased.
Russell says his office has “pretty much exhausted” all efforts to locate next of kin. And so, with no funds available to bury these cremains, Russell is working with the county board’s Judicial and Public Safety Committee to “come up with a (burial) place that makes sense.”
He’s got some good leads on county land, including a pauper’s cemetery that’s not been utilized since the early ’50s. He even has his eye on an old metal casket — it’s been at the coroner’s office as long as anyone can remember — that could be used for burial purposes.
Looking through the list of names on the boxes, it’s easy to get caught up in a flurry of questions about hows and whys of ending up in such an impersonal setting. Three containers came in together from a Goodwill store in South Elgin — one in a Gold Medal flour tin. Perhaps a person had stumbled upon a box of attic clothes in a newly purchased home and didn’t even realize there were ashes inside. Another, a woman named Pauline Jenette Adams, was found in a storage compartment.
It’s the tiny, featherweight boxes, however, that hold my eyes the longest.
Baby Adams ... Baby Davis ... Baby Euell ... Baby Lee ... Baby McIntosh ... Baby Nunn-Burton ... Baby Sherman ... Some of those tiny infants, Deputy Coroner Loren Carrera notes, were born to young mothers who didn’t even want to acknowledge they were pregnant.
Both she and Russell are determined to give dignity to these babies, and all the other cremains, too. When that final resting place is found, clergy will be involved, says Carrera.
Russell describes this quest to properly bury the ashes as “low hanging fruit” in his efforts to clean up — and clean out — the department. As for the boxes of Halloween decorations taking up space: “They will be gone,” he says firmly.
And, the coroner hopes, in six months so will the cremains.
Says Russell, “We need to do what needs to be done.”