Nearly 200 cremated human remains left unclaimed after mortuary business closes

ABERDEEN, Wash. -- Nearly 200 cremated remains were left unclaimed after a funeral home shut its doors in Grays Harbor County.

At Whiteside Family Mortuary in Aberdeen, the doors are boarded up after it went out of business nearly a year ago.

Inside, county officials found nearly 140 urns that were left behind and all of them unclaimed by family members.

“They’re all in either metal or plastic boxes and some of the older ones are in cardboard,” said Lane Youmans, the Grays Harbor County coroner.

In total, 180 urns were collected from three mortuaries once owned by the Whiteside family.

“We have several infants that passed in the '70s,” added Youmans, as he reviewed the stack of boxes in his office.

All of them have ended up at the Gray’s Harbor County Coroner’s Office in Aberdeen.

“It’s shameful for a family that has been in business for over 104 years to simply turn off the lights and walk away,” said Youmans.

Youmans took custody of all these urns earlier this year. He didn’t do it because he had to; he said he did it because he wanted to.

“I was told I didn’t have a legal responsibility to deal with them, I just had a moral one and I couldn’t leave these behind. I wanted to protect them,” added Youmans.

Each of the cardboard boxes in Youman's office is filled with several urns. Each urn is a person left behind. The oldest one dates to 1924; it was brought over to the Whiteside Family Mortuary decades ago.

One set of remains is in a coffee can and dates to 1975.

“We’re going to leave him in the can because maybe that was his last wish,” said Youmans, as he held up the yellow and orange coffee can.

Youmans wants to make sure family members, who want their loved ones, know where to find them.

“There may not be any next of kin or there are situations where the family doesn’t want anything to do with the person. So, rather than try to bother them, I just want people to know these are available if they want to contact us,” said Youmans.

Several of the remains have been identified as veterans.  The Missing in America Project, a group that takes unclaimed remains of those who served in the military, will take 30 of those urns to the Tahoma National Cemetery for proper interment.

“It’s very sad. Like I said it’s rather shameful that they would leave these and just walk away,” said Youmans.

The Department of Licensing said the Whiteside Family Mortuary continued to operate after its license expired in January 2015.

Then, by the middle of the year, all three mortuaries shut down. The bank took over some of the properties.

“This is unprecedented. Normally when a funeral home goes out of business, it’s purchased by another one and they assume all the urns and all the records,” said Youmans.

No one really knows why the Whiteside family walked away from the business they had for more than a century.

Q13 News attempted to contact the last owner listed for the mortuary, Jennifer Whiteside. She wasn’t home when a Q13 News crew stopped by, and our calls to her were not returned.

Meanwhile, Youmans will keep the urns for at least six months to a year to see if anyone claims them. After that, all of the urns will be taken and locked away in a vault at the Fern Hill Funeral home.