Harris County strives to find kin of unclaimed bodies

HOUSTON - They're men, women and children who have died as victims of crimes, accidents and natural causes. The common thread is no one has stepped forward to bury them.

When she died recently at home, it wasn't hard for authorities to identify Shirl Green. The problem has been finding her family.

"She was never married and if she has children, we don't know where they would be," said Dr. Sharon Derrick, a forensic anthropologist at the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences.

Green is now on an unfortunate list. She is one of the latest additions to Harris County's unclaimed dead roll.

Last year through lab work and investigation, the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences identified and found kin for 99 percent of the nearly 4,000 people brought to its facility.

But the 59 less fortunate souls were left with a burial bereft of emotion in the county cemetery.

Sometimes the unclaimed are unidentified. They include fathers, mothers, even children who at the moment have no name and no history.

On Oct. 16, 2012, in north Harris County, stuffed inside a trash bag were the partially skeletonized remains of what turned out to be a young female, estimated to be between the ages of 15 and 17. How she died is a mystery and so far science has also failed to link her to her family. She was 5 feet 3 inches tall and died wearing a Smurfs shirt and a pair cargo pants.

The young female is one of just three victims in 2012 remains unidentified and unclaimed in Harris County and she is just weeks away now from a grave with a number.

Since 1957, 350 unidentified bodies have been buried at the Harris County cemetery. A 2011 federal grant has allowed the institute to exhume and re-examine the bodies of 25 people, one of whom has already been identified.

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