Thomas Tellis died in March, but his cremated remains are still waiting to be claimed at a Canton funeral home. Shortly after the 89-year-old's death, investigators located Tellis' daughter, but the woman, who was born out of wedlock and raised by another man, refused to claim Tellis' body.

The case is part of what coroners and funeral directors see as a disturbing trend: bodies going unclaimed because relatives are either unwilling or unable to shoulder the responsibility or expense of burying the dead.

Often, the reasons are economic. Funeral costs average more than $6,000, and that can create a burden for people struggling to make ends meet, said Harry Campbell, an investigator with the Stark County coroner's office.

While Stark County deals with only a handful of unclaimed bodies every year, more populous urban counties, such as Cleveland and Columbus, see a greater number. Last year Cuyahoga County investigated 43 cases. Franklin County had more than 140.

"It's a fairly widespread issue," said Dr. Lisa Kohler, Summit County medical examiner. "Either the family members cannot or will not take financial responsibility for burying their loved one, or we cannot find next of kin.

"In some of these situations, we do find family members that readily acknowledge that they're capable of providing financial assistance, but want nothing to do with them. That seems to be a fairly common situation."

In one instance, a woman contacted the Ohio Funeral Directors Association, which handles indigent cases, to pay for the funeral of her dying mother-in-law, said Trey Wackerly, a Canton funeral director and member of the organization.

At first the woman claimed she couldn't afford it, but when Wackerly pressed her, she acknowledged that there was insurance money, but that her family didn't like the mother-in-law and hoped to use the cash to remodel their kitchen.

These situations are a sad commentary on just how weak family ties have become to some people, said David Corey, executive director of the Ohio State Coroners Association in Columbus.

"When people walk away, they aren't avoiding a legal obligation, just a moral obligation," said Scott Gilligan, an attorney with the Ohio Funeral Directors Association.

Unclaimed bodies still receive a burial, but the county is often saddled with the bill when the deceased had no estate that could be used to cover expenses.

Counties have different protocols for dealing with such cases. Some bodies are cremated, others are not. Most end up in indigent plots in local cemeteries.

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