Some stories travel to the most unexpected places. A story I wrote in 2005 about the growing number of unidentified bodies that remain unclaimed at the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office was reprinted in a newspaper in Puerto Vallarta. What I remember most about reporting this story was my visit to the morgue. I had never seen so many bodies piled up on shelves. It is said Los Angeles County coroners are the busiest in the nation. From my story:
Inside the Los Angeles County morgue, John Doe No. 132 plays a silent game of Who Am I? with the forensic investigators trying to identify him.
A ragged, heart-shaped tattoo around the word “Hi” marks his left calf. Stud earrings shine from his lobes. Scars run up his right leg to his hip. His white T-shirt reads: “Simply for Sports.”
“He could have been a labor worker,” said Gilda Tolbert, an investigator who works with her husband, Doyle Tolbert, and a partner, Daniel Machian, for the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner.
“He could have wanted to be in a gang. Those tattoos, they seem homemade, not done in prison.”
Often with even fewer clues to guide them, the investigating trio embarks on an arduous search for the names – and then the survivors – of about 30 corpses each year whose identities stump authorities.