Unidentified Persons Bureau FAQ's

Q.What does the Medical Examiner’s Office do when a body is unidentified?

A body is recorded as unidentified if the person does not have a photo identification when he or she is found in a location outside of their residence. Also, when someone is disfigured by injuries or fire, very decomposed, or skeletal, he or she may be recorded as unidentified. In most cases, police are able to check fingerprint records to make an identification within days. Often, if there are belongings or other leads to who the person might be, a dental record comparison will confirm an identification. Other times, police might have a family provide a photograph of someone, and then the police can confirm the identification visually. After an identification is made, a family can usually arrange to view the decedent at the funeral home.

Q.Can I come to the Medical Examiner’s Office to view the unidentified bodies to see if it is my loved one?

The Medical Examiner’s Office is a secure facility and does not allow viewing of decedents. You may call our office to inquire about our most recent unidentified cases, but you can now also review our unidentified cases (and photos, when available) from past months and years on your own at our website, https://unidentified.maricopa.gov.

Q.What if someone is identified but police cannot find the family to let them know?

After police identify someone, they use various methods to attempt to find and notify the family. If family cannot be found within a few days, the body is released to a local funeral home for burial. The Maricopa County Public Fiduciary then becomes the “guardian” for the decedent. Often, the Public Fiduciary office or funeral home can pursue additional methods for finding family, such as placing an obituary in the newspaper. Feel free to call the Medical Examiner’s Office to ask us to check someone’s name in our database. You can also reach the Public Fiduciary office by calling them at (602) 506-8040.

Q.What happens to the bodies that aren’t ever identified?

If a body cannot be identified by fingerprints, the Medical Examiner’s Office will record many scientific details about the body, and the information is put into a national database used by police, called National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Before a body is released for burial, we obtain dental X-rays and full body X-rays that might help with future comparisons to records of missing persons. We also provide a DNA sample, when available, to be entered into the CODIS national DNA database. We now also put the case information (and photos, when available) onto the Unidentified Persons section of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner website, https://unidentified.maricopa.gov.

Q.What should I do if my friend or family member is missing?

Always contact the police department if you think that someone is missing and in danger. Each police department has their own guidelines for the reporting of missing persons. You might also want to call local hospitals or jails to inquire about the missing person. (Police often go to hospitals to fingerprint unidentified people that are unconscious, so in addition to inquiring if they have any unidentified patients, request that they check for the name in their database as well). You may call the Medical Examiner’s Office to ask about your missing friend or family member, but unfortunately, we cannot take an official “missing person’s report” or do any investigation other than checking our own database.