You think I'm kidding? I wish I was, but sadly I'm not. That's exactly what WRTV's Jack Rinehart uncovered during his investigation of the disappearance of 51-year-old Carl Southern. Rinehart reports:
Relatives of a man they reported missing in June learned this week that not only was he dead, his remains were cremated -- and that the Marion County coroner's office identified the body months ago but failed to tell them or police -- 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.
Carl Southern's relatives said they learned Tuesday in a letter from the Social Security Administration that the 51-year-old Indianapolis man -- who they reported missing on June 20 -- had died.
Through subsequent discussions with Indianapolis police and the coroner's office, they learned that police found a body June 15 and that the coroner's office identified it as Southern on the same day, but neither police nor his relatives were told about the identification.
The coroner's office said it tried unsuccessfully to contact Southern's family, even using newspaper advertisements in an attempt to reach them. But after a few weeks, the office sent the body to a funeral home, which cremated it, Rinehart reported.
"It was just devastating," Southern's sister, Loretta Williams, said. "I couldn’t believe it. I was like, 'What is this?' "
The funeral home told the federal government of Southern's death, so the Social Security Administration sent his family a letter saying it was terminating his benefits. When the letter arrived Tuesday, the SSA succeeded in doing something the coroner's office said it couldn't -- locate Southern's family.
Police Stunned By Revelation
Information on the cause of Southern's death wasn't available, but the coroner's office said it determined that he had cocaine in his system and had suffered a subdural hemorrhage, or bleeding on the brain.
Police investigators -- who said they learned of Southern's death only after his family told them about the Social Security letter -- said information about the body's condition leads them to suspect foul play in the death. But with cremation having taken place, they must investigate without the body.
Authorities said they spent a lot of time looking for Southern since he was reported missing June 20. In late July, they asked the news media to publicize his disappearance, not knowing that the coroner's office had identified his body more than a month beforehand.
"We are flabbergasted about this whole chain of events," said Capt. David Allender, head of the Indianapolis Police Department's missing-persons branch.
Coroner's Office Says It Tried To Reach Family
Police said they now know that they found Southern's body on June 15 in an alley in the 1300 block of Cruft Street. The body was given to the coroner's office as an
unidentified man. With the help of fingerprints and pieces of identification on the body, the coroner's office determined that day that the body was that of Southern, Rinehart reported.
The coroner's office held the body for nearly six weeks. From July 22 to July 24, it ran advertisements in The Indianapolis Star's public notices page, trying to find members of Southern's family, Rinehart reported.
Eventually, the office determined that its efforts to find relatives were unsuccessful, and it gave the body to a funeral home for cremation.
The funeral home is searching for Southern's ashes. Williams, Southern's sister, indicated her trust had been exhausted.
"Even if they came and brought me something, I don’t know if that's my brother or not. I wouldn't believe that it is if they did bring me some ashes or whatever," Williams said.
News of Southern's fate came as the coroner's office was being investigated over allegations that more than $3,000 in cash and property belonging to a deceased man was stolen.
Would leaders of the Marion Co. Democratic Party please come together to explain to Mr. Ackles that he must resign his position immediately? He has forfeited any last remaining right he had to deserving the public's trust.
UPDATE: Jack Rinehart did a follow up report tonight about the police department's displeasure with this turn of events. First, they're upset that they wasted a lot of time and resources looking for Southern because the coroner's office told them they didn't have his body. Secondly, the coroner's office may have compromised a potential murder investigation. It turns out that Southern was last seen being led out of Lugar Towers at gun point. A few days after his body was discovered, Southern's nephew was murdered. As the coroner's office cremated his remains, this may complicate any potential prosecution.