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CARTHAGE, Mo. — They collect the bodies from roadsides, nursing homes, hospitals, and beneath bridges.
What happens next makes Jasper County special.
“Pauper” means the the body is all that remains. There is no bank account, no next of kin.
Under a long-running program in the county, taxpayer money pays for the burials in these cases. A simple cremation costs $325.
The program is run by Terri Benford, administrative assistant to the Jasper County Commissioners.
Take a first glance at the County Budget proposed for 2018, and the pauper burial program looks like one of the biggest losers. Its budget was seemingly cut by 75 percent, roughly from $12,000 to $3,000.
The program will continue to fund the cremation of any indigent person who dies in the county, mostly thanks to grants from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. Last year, Benford got wind of a grant that would help the county pay for the burials.
“It’s saved the county some money,” Benford said. “But it’s just sad that those people don’t have anybody.”
Richard Webster, county auditor, left a few thousand dollars in the pauper burial budget in case some burials aren’t covered by the charity. But it has covered every such burial this year, Benford said.
In one way or another, these are people who slip through the cracks. Sometimes they are found with a friend or a distant relative, someone who has dropped occasionally to check up. Often they have no one at all.
Every year, like clockwork, about 1,100 people die in Jasper County.
Last year, 22 received pauper burials. Their names: Brian Joe Allen, David C. Mann, Elmer Morris Jr., Nathan M. Ryan, Paul W. Ferguson, Delores Ann Windham, Dulice Dean, Donald Gene Earles, Robbin Huffins, Toney Lynn Carter, Bridget Annette Royer, Sandra Richardson, Jerry Parker, Frances Henderson, Carol Zornes, Eileen Nims, Larry Lynn Webster, Charles Leroy McCluskey, Gary Wayne Mercer, Nikki Christine Kline, Jerry Alexander and Arthur W. Robinson.
In earlier years they would have been buried in a simple wooden casket. Somewhere along the way, the county shifted to a simple cremation.
It is the only county in the area that pays for pauper burials, according to Pat Irwin, a director of Parker Mortuary in Joplin.
Parker regularly handles the burials. After what is called a “removal,” mortuary employees search for bank accounts, wills, friends and relatives connected to the deceased. Finding none, they ask the county to pay to incinerate the body.
Sometimes they come across instructions for handling the so-called “cremains.” Take them to a creek somewhere. Scatter them in the woods.
If there is no indication, the mortuary keeps them indefinitely, Irwin said.
“You never know when someone may come asking,” he said.
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