It’s not like somebody didn’t care about what to do with 85-year-old Everet Lloyd Knabb when he died in 2000.
His ashes are in a metal urn, inscribed with his birth year, death year and name – including his nickname, Jack.
Who arranged that remains a mystery. The urn was discovered about three years ago by people buying a house. The previous homeowners had no connection to Knabb.
So the urn – plus 34 cardboard boxes containing other people’s unclaimed ashes – was entombed May 27 in a mausoleum at North Cemetery in St. Charles.
It was the fifth such ceremony Kane County Coroner Rob Russell conducted since taking office in 2012.
“I tried so hard. There’s got to be family for this guy,” Russell said of his search for Knabb’s family. His office was unable to find any relatives. No friends or acquaintances stepped forward when Russell publicized a list of unclaimed remains in April.
None of the people entombed May 27 were anonymous. The reasons why people’s remains are unclaimed vary, according to Russell, other counties’ coroners and the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
“More and more people are not claiming their loved ones,” Russell said. Others may not have living relatives or are estranged from their families.
In previous years, Russell entombed the remains of infants whose parents may have been too upset to take the remains. Or, as in Knabb’s case, someone paid for cremation, but then the ashes fell into a stranger’s hands.
Russell’s office once received ashes stored in a metal flour tin that had been donated to a Goodwill store. This year’s lot includes remains found when the Kane County Sheriff’s Office performed an eviction in South Elgin.
“Sometimes people are just unsure of what to do with cremains,” said Rebecca Perrone, indigent coordinator for the Cook County medical examiner’s office. “They don’t want them in their house.”
Cook County began cremating the bodies of unclaimed people in 2014 rather than burying them. Typically, the medical examiner will wait 30 days before cremation and store the cremains for a year. If somebody comes to pick them up, they are charged $250. The unclaimed remains include those of fetuses and unidentified people. Since 2016, Cook has had as few as 280 unclaimed remains in a year to a high of 773 in 2020.
The office this month will bury 260 people at Mount Olivet Cemetery on 111th Street in Chicago. The Archdiocese of Chicago donates the plots and participates in the service.
“It’s a really great service that the public can attend,” Perrone said. “We make sure we are treating everybody like somebody with a dignified resting place.”
The Cook County Funeral Directors Association conducts the funeral procession, transporting the caskets by hearse. Each of the specially-constructed caskets can hold 20 boxes of ashes. The Cook County Board president and county commissioners usually attend the services.
“It is definitely something to see and be proud of in Cook County,” Perrone said.
Cook County also entombs unclaimed remains of military veterans at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, she said.
McHenry County Coroner Dr. Michael Rein said he is considering doing something similar to what Kane coroner Russell does. DuPage County Coroner Dr. Richard Jorgensen said his office typically has five or fewer unclaimed remains annually and how they are disposed of varies.
At the recent Kane County service, Elgin police and fire chaplain Ed Hunter read the deceased’s names. Elgin Police Chaplain Al Keating prayed. “We know, God, that you know everything about them,” he said.
“If they [the deceased] can see any of this, they can know they were respected,” Russell said.