Experts work to identify hundreds of bodies each year in Maricopa County

Posted at 5:06 AM, Mar 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-09 10:00:13-05

According to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's office, hundreds of people go unidentified in Maricopa County every year after they pass away. 

But how is it people don't know who you are?

Christina Eggers is in charge of identifying these cases. She says going unidentified is easier than one might think. It could be as easy as forgetting your wallet one day with your ID inside.  

That's what happened to one man more than a decade ago. Eggers says eventually she found out he was a day laborer and went to work on a farm one day when he suffered a stroke. He didn't have any identification on him and when he passed, he went unidentified for roughly 20 years.  

Only in 2017, when his sister happened to see an updated sketch, was she able to bring their family closure.  

Eggers says time is always her biggest obstacle, and she must go through a series of channels and agencies to see if she can give those cases a final resting place with their name. 

Her office had been receiving a grant for several years to do excavations and new DNA testing. They won't' have that this year but she says still the new technology will help. 

"We can get a better idea of where they might've come from this parabon testing and we can get a more specific sketch from that and more detailed demographic information," Eggers adds. 

She says the consulates of other countries are a huge help in connecting families with their loved ones who've passed away. 

One of the local agencies she works closely with is the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. 

Recently MCSO Sheriff Paul Penzone renewed focus on the Cold Case Unit within the department. 

Detective Tony Rodarte says some of these cases on their hands are decades old so time is also an issue for them. Some of their cases are from the 1960s and 1970s, so some of the witnesses have passed away and so have some of the law enforcement officials who initially worked on the cases. 

Detective Rodarte says it's a big workload but every case for them is a priority. He adds that while they continue every day investigating, it's the public that can really provide the break in the case they need. 

"You may be holding the one piece of the puzzle that we're not looking at. And we may have everything else, and that one little piece that you think may not be important, could be enough to save a crime," Rodarte adds.