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Illinois medical examiner puts unidentified corpses online in hopes of finding answers

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Cook County Medical Examiner
Cook County Medical Examiner

In a somewhat morbid example of the internet's reach, the Cook County Medical Examiner's office is now displaying photos of unidentified persons on its website. Images of three deceased are available currently, with coroner photos of two other bodies "pending." Dr. Steve Cina explains the tactic as a last-ditch effort to put names to the many faces that have to this point gone unclaimed in the county's morgue. "We're hoping that that photo can trigger somebody's memory," the Medical Examiner told Chicago's Fox 32.

"Maybe that's the best we can do at our end of the business."

The graphic nature of these photos is sure to be criticized by some, but Cina is hopeful his office will see some gains in committing to the controversial move. "It's worth it to reunite some families," he says. "Maybe we've just given that family a chance to end a statement with a period instead of a question mark. Maybe that's the best we can do at our end of the business." Before visitors even see any of the photographs, they'll first find detailed descriptions of each body with physical traits and any prominent tattoos or markings. Perhaps the most harrowing aspect of the site is the section that reveals where each person was found, with many discovered in back alleys, parking lots, abandoned buildings, and near railroad tracks. Many of the now-deceased likely lost contact with relatives years ago, but Cina is nonetheless hopeful the web may provide some answers.

Similar measures have been taken by other city coroners in the past, and the government-funded National Missing and Unidentified Persons System maintains a live, searchable database of unidentified remains. Cook County's data is linked to and available via the NamUs site as well, which helped one Michigan family identify their missing daughter. Clearly the subject matter may prove uncomfortable to some, but supporters insist the end justifies the means.