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Coroners dealing with more unclaimed bodies

Posted at 11:36 PM, Feb 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-06 00:26:00-05

CINCINNATI -- Ken Martin died alone. 

The people who knew him in life didn't want him to stay that way.

Martin, who dealt with on-and-off homelessness and substance addiction throughout his adult life, was sober, living in safe housing and encouraging others to seek help when he spoke to WCPO in May 2017.

Then, in August of the same year, he "had a slip" back into substance abuse from which he would never recover. Police found his frozen body at a Government Square bus stop two days after Christmas.

Sam and Susan Landis, who founded the anti-poverty charity Maslow's Army and worked with Martin as he searched for housing, paid to ensure he would ultimately have in death what he didn't in life: A safe, permanent place to rest.

"We need to treat every human being with the dignity and respect that we want to have ourselves," Sam Landis said. 

Not every homeless person gets the same treatment. 

According to Don Jasper, chief death investigator at the Hamilton County Coroner's Office, cases of orphan bodies -- those belonging to people with no identifiable next of kin -- have nearly doubled since 2015. 

"Normally, they were running around 20 to 25 a year," he said. "Then we saw an increase between 40 and 50 per year. Some of that is due to opioids; some of that is due to the economy, also."

The coroner's office doesn't have much space for unclaimed remains, according to Jasper, so these bodies are cremated if no one can pay for a funeral.

"We have one that's still here from September of last year," he said. "It's sad. There's a body in the morgue that's been here for five months now, and there's nobody out there looking for them."