The unclaimed dead of Hinds County, Mississippi, are buried along a dirt road on the grounds of a jail work farm, their graves marked with just a metal rod and a number.
Every few months, inmates dig new graves and add new bodies to the hundreds already buried in unkempt plots.
For centuries, the solemn duty of burying people who died with no money or known family has fallen to local governments. Some coroners and medical examiners conduct exhaustive searches for surviving family members, scouring the internet and government databases for clues.
But others do not complete the job.
This has become evident in Hinds County, where NBC News has found several cases in which people died and were buried in the pauper’s field even though their families were looking for them — or weren’t hard to find.
The families say they would have gladly claimed their loved ones’ bodies and given them a proper funeral. Instead, they say, the pauper’s burials left them traumatized and damaged their trust in the government.
Blame for these botched cases has fallen primarily on the Hinds County coroner’s office and the Jackson Police Department. Each agency points a finger at the other.
Meanwhile, other families are left wondering if their missing loved ones were also given pauper’s burials in that desolate stretch of land, beyond a horse stable and scrapyard.
In an effort to help families find answers, NBC News is publishing a list of pauper’s burials in Hinds County since 2016. The list was provided by the county coroner’s office in response to a public records request. The office said in an email that it did not have a list of those buried earlier: “Records before 2016 could not be located. ”
In publishing this list, NBC News is sharing only a person’s name, gender, race, date of death, age at death and the date of burial. The NBC News list only includes adults, and it does not include the names of nine people whose unclaimed bodies were designated in recent months for pauper’s burials in Hinds County but not yet buried as of Nov. 1.
NBC News was not able to confirm the accuracy of the information on the list, so it may include misspellings or other errors. NBC News also removed names of people listed as claimed or exhumed, including Dexter Wade, who was removed from the pauper’s field and given a proper funeral after NBC News reported on authorities’ failure to tell his mother he’d been killed.
If you believe you have found a loved one on the list, more information can be found by contacting the Hinds County coroner’s office, which is responsible for requesting pauper’s burials. The Hinds County Board of Supervisors approves the requests.
NBC News is also continuing its reporting on paupers’ burials and cremations. If you would like to share your experience, you may contact reporter Jon Schuppe at [email protected].
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