Graphic: Did Chicago Morgue Go Too Far Posting Unredacted Photos of Unclaimed Bodies?

Editor’s Note: Some of the images below, which we’ve blurred, show deceased people and still might be considered graphic to some. 

The Cook County morgue in Illinois is so crowded that the Chicago Sun-Times reported in January last year that bodies were stacked in blue bags on top of each other. According to the medical examiner’s office spokeswoman Mary Paleologos, who spoke with DNA Info this week, there are about 20 unidentified bodies in the morgue at this time.

In an effort to identify these bodies, the county’s medical examiner began posting photos and some other information online in the hopes that it lead to their being claimed.

On the website of the Office of the Medical Examiner is an unidentified person’s page where information includes descriptions of potentially identifying information, like clothing and tattoos, and, in some cases, photographs.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported it is the first time such detailed information has been included on the website.

The information is formatted as a chart like this. Some cases have photos pending, a few have photos available and some do not have photos at all. (Image: Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner)

Speaking with DNA Info, Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said he hopes posting such information will help loved ones identify and claim bodies of those at the morgue.

“While some of the images are graphic, they may allow a family member across the country or around the world to identify a missing loved one,” Cina said in a statement, according to the Sun-Times.

Clicking to view a photo on the website first pulls up this pop-up (below) warning the viewer of the potentially graphic content.

(Image: Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner)

Here are a couple examples of photos of what is included on the website (Editor’s note: we’ve blurred the face):

(Photo: Cook County Medical Examiner)
(Image: Cook County Medical Examiner)

Milwaukee County in Wisconsin launched a similar unidentified person’s database to its website last year. Forensic investigator Mike Simley spoke with ABC News at the time about why, although potentially gruesome, such a database is important:

“I was just desperate to get people identified,” Simley said. “Everyone is born with an identity and deserves to die and be put to rest with the same thing, rather than as a Jane or John Doe.”

The database is filled with photos of the unnamed deceased– bloated faces and all–that viewers can scroll through to see if they recognize any faces. The website even includes a section for unidentified infants and fetuses found abandoned and deceased. Many of the images, Simley acknowledged, are gruesome.

“I talked with the chief medical examiner here. We see this stuff on a daily basis, but people who don’t have to deal with death all the time. Obviously it would not be an easy thing for people to see, deceased individuals,” Simley said.

He created the website to have multiple warnings and disclaimers about the types of pictures featured.

“I structured this website so you have to jump through some hoops, and read a big warning about what types of pictures they are, and a description of why I’m doing this (before you see the photos).”

The information on Cook County’s expanded website was already posted on the national missing persons website NamUs, but Cina told DNA Info many family members wouldn’t think to look there.

WBBM-TV reported that Newsradio was able to use information on the county’s new website to identify the family of one unclaimed body at the morgue. What Newsradio found was that sometimes there are reasons the body goes unclaimed, even if it is identified.

Here’s more from WBBM-TV on this case:

Unclaimed: 68-year-old Anthony Motkowicz. Did odd jobs and sold scrap metal. Grew up in the Hegewisch area.

“He was the golden child,” Angelica Maris.

Maris was the third wife – and ex-wife – of Anthony Motkowicz, who died in a tent fire on January 20, in Burnham – on the Illinois-Indiana line.

“When they found him, what was in my wallet was still my picture, with my number. And I was just surprised he still had my picture,” said Maris.

She says she contacted his sister, a nephew and another ex-wife.

“And so it all came out to this whole process of not anybody knowing what they can do. Nobody has the funds to do anything,” said Maris.

In Motkowicz’s case though, WBBM-TV reported, Maris was able to show he was a veteran, which means he will be buried as such.

But if Maris was not able to find the paperwork showing this was true, she asked the morgue what would happen to his body. Maris claimed that the medical examiner’s office said if the paperwork wasn’t available and the body went unclaimed, that Motkowicz’s body would be “just thrown into, basically a tomb of 30 other people,” WBBM-TV reported  Maris saying.

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