THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, September 29, 1996 TAG: 9609290042 SECTION: LOCAL PAGE: B1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY LYNN WALTZ, STAFF WRITER DATELINE: NORFOLK LENGTH: 210 lines
They are the old, the very young, the disenfranchized, the forgotten. Usually, they die alone or with strangers. When they do and no one steps forward to claim them, they wind up being cremated or buried in a cheap pine box at state expense.
In some cases - like murder victim Megan Jones - the community steps forward as a surrogate family to provide a caring burial. Far more often, the only one who cares is Capt. Clifton Arnold of the Norfolk Sheriff's Department.
Arnold is well known at the Norfolk medical examiner's office and at local hospitals. They know his warmth. They know his stories. They know his caring. And when they wind up with a body that no one wants, they know whom to call.
Arnold could just push through the paperwork that lands on his desk, getting the court orders necessary to release the body to a local funeral home for a ``pauper's burial.'' He could just arrange for the disbursement of $1,875 in state funds to the funeral homes.
Instead, Arnold, 63, investigates each person to see if there is any family anywhere who cares. Sadly, he says, in the one in four cases where he tracks down family, they usually don't.
``Some people are caring but don't have the means,'' Arnold said. ``Others give you the impression they don't care. That makes me upset, people not caring more about their relatives than they do.''
Arnold has run across fathers who refuse to claim sons. Children who refuse to claim parents. Or, more often, dead ends in his search. With Megan Jones, there was no need for an investigation, just a morass of legal technicalities to get the body released.
Jones was killed in her Delaware Avenue home around Mother's Day. Her body has been kept at the medical examiner's office for four months, caught in a legal battle between her parents and her husband, Tobin Jones, who is charged in her death.
The parents wanted to cremate their daughter as she had wished and sprinkle her ashes in the ocean. Defense attorneys say their client wants an independent autopsy and needs the complete body to do so.
After Megan's parents gave up their legal fight last week, the Medical Examiner's office declared the body ``unclaimed'' and sent the paperwork to Arnold to arrange for a state funeral.
Wednesday, defense attorneys went to court to stop the release. Friday, a judge denied their request, ordering the body released to Arnold for burial on Tuesday. An outpouring of community concern and donations may result in enough money to upgrade the funeral from state to private.
Megan Jones is the first case Arnold has dealt with where the person had standing in the community and was fairly well-to-do. Usually, they are indigents.
``They're forgotten people who have lost contact with relatives,'' he said. ``Several of them had pretty good jobs, but they were senior citizens up in age, just cast off.''
Most are elderly black men, followed by middle-aged black men.
Of 34 who were buried by the state in the past three years, 18 were over 60. Twenty-five were male. Five were newborns.
``These are the people in the twilight of life, the dawn of life and the shadow of life,'' said George Schaefer, Arnold's colleague, referring to a quote by Jesse Jackson. ``These are the people that end up unclaimed, and these are the people Clif Arnold cares about.''
Arnold was named deputy of the year for 1995 after he tracked down the 4-year-old illegitimate son of an unclaimed body, found more than $50,000 in assets and arranged for a veteran's burial at a military cemetery.
Just three weeks ago, the boy's mother died. Arnold got the news almost immediately. At this point, he's sort of like family, he admits. The trust fund he set up for the boy could make all the difference now.
``He's amazing, absolutely amazing,'' Schaefer said. ``He goes so far above and beyond the call of duty. He goes the extra mile to track down relatives.''
Though the job seems ghoulish, Arnold said it's not difficult for him after 26 years as a Norfolk police officer. It's much easier than being first to arrive at a bad automobile accident, he said, having to actually deal with trauma and death firsthand.
Now, he never deals directly with the bodies, just the paperwork. Every body has a story, he said, sometimes a very interesting one.
``It's not unusual to get a murder victim,'' Arnold said. ``I've handled skeletons on ships from overseas. A baby found in a Dumpster. You'd be surprised what I run up with.''
Arnold checks all the court records, property deeds, criminal records, probation records. Sometimes he finds someone who hasn't seen the person in 20 years.
``They're distant relatives. They didn't even know where the person was,'' Arnold said.
One man froze on the street. One baby was stillborn. One was an alcoholic who died in a bathroom. One was a drug addict with a long history of depression. One had a long criminal history with drugs. One man, found dead on the street, had 40 aliases and 10 Social Security cards.
One Arnold will never forget was an older woman with five grown children, three in California, one in Norfolk and one in Newport News. None would claim her.
The 72-year-old woman was found dead in her Ocean View apartment on Feb. 24, 1995, about three weeks after she was last seen. Among her belongings, Arnold found pictures of her children and grandchildren. He also found evidence that the woman - living on Social Security - had scraped together $5 or $10 for her grandchildren's birthdays every year.
Arnold tracked down each child and asked if they would claim the body. ``All the children refused,'' Arnold said. ``They said I didn't understand what had happened in the past. They said `let the city bury her.' It made me feel like I wanted to put those kids in jail.''
Arnold has been married 42 years and has two children who, he joked, call him every day. That could be what makes it hard for him to understand the father who wouldn't claim his 38-year-old son who had died of a drug overdose. It could be what drives him to try to track down a dead man's son in the state penitentiary.
And to step into their shoes when the time comes.
``He goes to the funerals. He goes to the gravesites. He picks out caskets,'' Schaeffer said. ``It's really touching. . . . He treats them like he has a soul, not just a body.
``It's really touching. Nobody else seems to care about them except Capt. Clif Arnold.'' MEMO: Staff writer Naomi Aoki contributed to this report. ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by BETH BERGMAN, The Virginian-Pilot
Capt. Clifton Arnold of the Norfolk Sheriff's Department has made it
his business to track down the friends or relatives of the forgotten
people who end up in the morgue.
Of 34 unclaimed bodies in the past three years, 18 were over 60
years old. Twenty-five were male. The most likely profile was a
black man over 60. The names were not released for privacy reasons.
(Information provided by the Norfolk Sheriff's Department. Deaths
occurring in 1993 were processed in 1994.)
1. An unidentified skeleton was found on the Kansas Traitor
shipping vessel on July 17, 1993. Turned over to state on April 22,
1994. From the West Indies. Race, sex and age not available. No
2. An unidentified skeleton was found on the M-V Torm Freya cargo
vessel on Dec. 14, 1993. Turned over to the state on April 25, 1994.
From the Ivory Coast. Race, sex and age not available. No family
3. Man who resided at a homeless shelter. Died Dec. 15, 1993.
4. Black male, 37. Died Dec. 22, 1993. Natural causes. Family
refused to claim body.
5. Black male, 70. Died Jan. 23, 1994. Found freezing on the
street. No family found.
6. White male, 56. Died Feb. 2, 1994. Natural causes. No family
7. White male, stillborn. Died March 24, 1994. Natural death at
hospital. Mother would not claim.
8. Asian baby, premature at 25 weeks. Died March 25, 1994. Mother
was Vietnamese refugee who asked hospital, through interpreter, to
take care of body. No money. No interest in funeral arrangements.
9. Black female, a couple of hours old. Died April 9, 1994.
10. White male, 66. Died May 18, 1994. Had four daughters and a
son. Could not locate daughters. Son deceased.
11. Black male, 78. Died June 29, 1994. Natural causes, heart
disease. Relative in Prince George County could not be located.
12. Infant, a few hours old. Died July 21, 1994. Natural causes.
Mother signed permission to cremate. Left hospital with no
13. Black male, 64. Died Aug. 17, 1994. Natural causes.
14. Black male, 49. Died Aug. 31, 1994. Natural causes.
15. Black male, 63. Died Nov. 13, 1994. Using public records,
Arnold tracked down a 4-year-old, illegitimate son, discovered more
than $50,000 in unclaimed insurance and benefits and set up a trust
fund for the boy.
1. Black male, 53. Died Feb. 4, 1995. Wife's whereabouts unknown.
Alcoholic, died after drinking unknown amount of wine.
2. White female, 72. Found in her Ocean View apartment on Feb.
24, 1995. Last seen Feb. 1. Had five children who refused to claim
her body because of something that had happened in the past.
3. White male, 42. Died June 10, 1995. Long history of
depression, crack and other drug use. Relatives in Brooklyn could
not be located.
4. Black male, 78. Died July 9, 1995. Born in Guam. Died in
hospital, natural causes. No family could be found. Girlfriend would
not claim body.
5. Black female, 69. Died Aug. 7, 1995.
6. White male, 43. Died Aug. 17, 1995. Divorced wife, father in
California, refused to claim body. Cause of death was drugs or
alcohol. Long history of criminal behavior with at least 47 arrests
for drinking, fighting and drugs. Former Navy man enjoyed working on
motorcycles and watching sports. Began using cocaine and heroin in
7. Black male, stillborn. Died Aug. 20, 1995. Found in a garbage
bag in a Dumpster. Mother on drugs.
8. Black female, 78. Died Aug. 21, 1995.
9. Black male, 70. Died Sept. 3, 1995, in hospital, natural
causes. Relatives in Baltimore could not be located.
10. Black male, 62. Died Sept. 11, 1995, in hospital, natural
causes. Family could not be located.
11. Black male, 63. Died Nov. 3, 1995, natural causes. Police in
Brooklyn unable to locate sister.
12. Black male, 45. Died Nov. 8, 1995. Found dead on the street.
Had 40 aliases and more than 10 Social Security cards. Separated
from wife who could not be located in New York.
13. Black male, 76. Died Dec. 26, 1995, of natural causes, alone
at the hospital.
1. White male, 80. Died Jan. 18, 1996. Of natural causes, in
hospital. Tried unsuccessfully to locate son in penitentiary.
2. Black male, 65. Died Feb. 3, 1996, in hospital. No known
3. Black female, 77. Died March 13, 1996, natural causes. No
4. White male, 77. Died June 28, 1996, natural causes, in
5. Black male, 38. Died June 28, 1996. Parents would not claim
him and did not want information on the funeral. Drug addict, may
have died from drug overdose.
6. White male, 83. Died Aug. 12, 1996, in nursing home, natural
causes. No family located. by CNB