Outpouring saves homeless man from an unmarked grave


Bennie Simpson avoided a nameless grave.

In February, the 80-year-old homeless man was found dead in a makeshift shelter in an Antrim Township, Pa., field.

Pennsylvania State Police tried earnestly, but unsuccessfully, to find relatives or friends.

Simpson's body was bound for a plot at the Franklin County pauper cemetery on Franklin Farm Lane, behind the Falling Spring Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Graves at the cemetery are marked only with numbers.

Then, stories about Simpson's destitution triggered offers of charity from the public. Through donations, he received a headstone, a plot and a burial at Norland Cemetery on the northern edge of Chambersburg.


Posthumously, Simpson was lucky.

In Franklin County, the first option for unclaimed bodies, by law, is the medical research program at Hershey Medical Center, Coroner Jeffrey Connor said.

About 25 percent of the bodies are disposed of that way.

In other cases, the county cremates the bodies of people who die without money or family. The county contracts with local funeral homes to cremate bodies for $350 apiece, Connor said.

The ashes sit for a while - sometimes several years - to see if a relative can be found.

If that happens, the family must pay the funeral home the actual cost of the cremation, which prevents anyone from taking advantage of the county's discounted rate. Connor said a cremation could cost about $1,600.

If the family doesn't pay the actual cost, the county won't release the ashes.

Connor said Franklin County's $500 "indigent burials" account wouldn't cover more than one cremation.

But since pauper cremations rarely happen more than once a year, Connor said, the budget line is probably about right.

The county has not buried any indigent ashes since Connor became coroner two years ago, but he said he expects to bury several sets of ashes this summer.

In West Virginia, counties do not fund pauper burials, according to Sue Buster, a program manager with the Department of Health and Human Resources.

A family member, friend or funeral director can apply for up to $1,250 from the state to bury a pauper, Buster said.

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