Natrona County OKs Funds To Bury Years Of Unclaimed Cremated Remains

The Natrona County Coroner’s office on Tuesday okayed $15,000 to bury the cremated remains of 22 unclaimed people. The remains had been sitting on a shelf in the coroner's office for years.

Dale Killingbeck

March 20, 20245 min read

Highland Cemetery in Casper.
Highland Cemetery in Casper. (City of Casper)

Cremated remains sitting on the shelf at the Natrona County Coroner’s office that go back years will get a final resting place in the not-so-distant future.

Coroner Jim Whipps and Deputy County Attorney Leda Pojman talked with Natrona County commissioners Tuesday about indigent burials in the county.

Past practices kept the indigent burials under the authority of the elected coroner’s office, but Pojman told the board that legally, it’s the responsibility of commissioners.

“At this point, the coroner under a previous handshake deal had been administering the program,” Pojman said.

County Board Chairman Peter Nicolaysen said his understanding was the county could delegate to the coroner’s office, but commissioners needed to better understand needs.

In the meantime, the cremains of those indigent deaths are piling up at the coroner’s office. Whipps said the office has been dealing with the issue and signing the related paperwork over the years, but the county board needs to give legal authority moving forward.

“In the end we need a policy that says this is how the county is dealing with non-coroner cases that are indigent and how that process works,” he said.

The Problem

Under the law, Whipps said he can appropriately deal with the remains of people that come under the authority of his office that involve an indigent status.

The problem the county faces, are those bodies that are not under the authority of the coroner’s office, but are people who have died without known family from a hospice or other facility, or bodies that families refuse to claim from funeral homes because they have no money for burial or cremation.

In past years, Whipps said funeral homes would approach his office and ask him to rule on indigent status. He would then authorize indigent status and approve cremation. The funeral homes agreed to a $1,500 fee that the coroner’s office would sign off on, and then Whipps would apply for reimbursement from the state.

Prior to a year ago, the funeral homes retained responsibility for appropriate disposal of remains. That changed with new policies at the funeral homes, Whipps said. The funeral homes said since the county was paying for the cremations, they would also need to be responsible for the remains — just like a family.

Whipps said he received cremains from funeral homes that were more than 10 years old. He now has about 22 on a shelf in the coroner’s building that need appropriate disposal.

For the bodies turned over to the county that do have families who could not pay for the cremation, Whipps also sought commissioners’ thoughts. His research shows that in other states and counties, the family is asked to reimburse the county before they can receive the cremains back.

Natrona County Coroner Jim Whipps discusses the issue of indigent burials at a county commission work session on Tuesday.
Natrona County Coroner Jim Whipps discusses the issue of indigent burials at a county commission work session on Tuesday. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

‘Do What Is Right’

Commissioners agreed that would not be their policy.

“We have to do what is right and we have to do it as quickly as we can,” Commissioner Dallas Laird said. “Let’s fulfill our legal duties and Christian duties, and if we’re not Christian, our spiritual duties and get this matter going as soon as we can.”

County Commissioner Jim Freel said he has been in contact with the city of Casper about the issue and the city has agreed to donate a plot in the cemetery where the county could buy a columbarium for the cremated remains. He said the city also has indigent bodies that it sometimes needs to bury as well.

Commission Chairman Peter Nicolaysen told Whipps that getting remains back to any family members was important.

“My thought is with respect to those 22 or 23 (cremains) that you have, the commission could just say if you can get them back respectfully to family members, then we go ahead and do that,” he said.

Future Resolution

Commissioners agreed to move forward with the city on the issue and directed legal counsel to draft a memorandum of understanding on the indigent burials between the Board of Commissioners and coroner’s office as well as a policy to guide the commission.

Pojman said she would come back to the board with a resolution and other items for action.

“We would present a resolution to the board for the 22 cremains that have been there and that would include a place to put them,” she said. “And I did hear the coroner say today that he will go back through those cremains and double check, triple check to see if something has changed, and that was our thought on the cremains.”

The board agreed to find money in its budget for the estimated $15,000 for a columbarium, foundation and other associated costs. They scheduled a future work session to discuss next steps.

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at

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Dale Killingbeck


Killingbeck is glad to be back in journalism after working for 18 years in corporate communications with a health system in northern Michigan. He spent the previous 16 years working for newspapers in western Michigan in various roles.