Mass Grave Behind Jackson, Mississippi Jail Raises More Questions Than it Answers
A “Pauper’s Cemetery” Behind Hinds County Jail Holds 215 Unclaimed, Unidentified Bodies
Some bizarre and shocking news out of Jackson, Mississippi recently: behind the Hinds County Penal Farm, in what’s been described as a “pauper’s cemetery” 672 bodies lie in shallow, unmarked graves, and around 215 of them are unclaimed, and unidentified bodies that have been buried there just in the last eight years.
But it gets stranger, some of these bodies are only around a year old, and their families have been searching for them the entire time they’ve been missing.
What is a “pauper’s cemetery”?
Typically, a “pauper’s grave” or cemetery is a place where the deceased are buried when the family cannot afford funeral services. Most of these bodies are identified and claimed, however, despite the family’s financial situation. The cemetery behind Hinds County Jail is in a field that had been used for this purpose for years before this story, but since 2016, hundreds more bodies have been buried there by officials in the county. Ben Crump, a nationally recognized civil rights attorney, is representing some of the families whose loved ones were buried in this field without their notification. At least two of the families have even paid a two hundred and fifty dollar fee to reclaim the rights to the body of their family members.
"We know, based on the records from the coroner's office, that, since 2016, in the last eight years, we can identify 215 individuals that were buried behind that jail, and their families have not been notified," Crump told PBS NewsHour.
"It is not a secret burial ground," she said. "In those graves are the bodies of those who went unclaimed by family when they died. These persons are either homeless people, inmates from local jails who died but relatives never claimed their bodies, unidentified persons who officials were never able to connect with family, or even persons who died," whose families couldn't afford a funeral.
Inmates incarcerated in the Hinds County Jail are reportedly the ones who were required to dig the graves.
Who were the people that have been identified and what happened to them?
The 215 were the ones that remained unclaimed and families were not notified. NBC News had obtained the records and released the names quietly, which you can find here.
A man named Dexter Wade, 37, who was buried in grave number 672, had been killed less than an hour after he’d left home on March 5, 2023. He was struck by a Jackson Police car driven by an off-duty officer as he crossed a nearby interstate highway. Police had known Dexter’s name since they had found identification and a medication bottle on the body, but failed to contact his mother, instead letting his body go unclaimed for months in the county morgue. Dexter's mother had reported him missing on March 14th, 2023, a week after the accident occurred. She was not informed of his death until August 24th despite being in constant contact with the police about his disappearance. She was then charged a two hundred and fifty dollar fee to reclaim the rights to his remains. Jackson PD claimed there was no 'ill-intent' found in their delay to notify his family.
Jonathan David Hankins, 39, was last seen by his mother when he informed her that he was going to meet some friends for the weekend. When he wasn't home for Sunday dinner, his mother filed a missing persons report. She and Hankins’ teenage daughter were no strangers to him disappearing for days at a time because Hankins also suffered from an addiction to methamphetamine, and he knew his mother didn’t allow him back in the house when he was using. She was never informed that her son had been found dead on May 23, 2022, which was only three days after he had left home. Every few weeks for over a year, his mother touched base with the police department. Despite having identified him rather quickly, both the coroner's office and Jackson PD failed to tell her. He was buried in grave 645.
A third man, 40-year-old Marrio Terrell Moore, was beaten to death on February 2nd, 2023, but his family had no idea until they came across the NBC News article listing the unclaimed bodies. According to police reports, he had been bludgeoned to death, wrapped in a tarp, and left on the street. NBC reports that his body remained unclaimed in the morgue for months until he was finally buried in the pauper's cemetery. Evidence compiled by NBC shows that Jackson PD made attempts to contact his family, but the family feels they didn't do enough to get in touch with them. They are adamant that they would have claimed his body if they had been notified. He was killed in February, buried in July, and his family had no idea until October. His mother also paid the $250 fee to reclaim him, plus another $500 to have him exhumed. Marquita Moore, Marrio’s sister, said “They just threw him away.” It is not reported which number grave he was buried in.
What happens now?
Since NBC News broke the news on this story and provided the list of names of the 215, Jackson, Mississippi adopted a “next-of-kin” notification policy. One would think that this is a standard practice for police departments nationwide, but Jackson did not have one until November of 2023.
Police Chief Joseph Wade announced the implementation of this new policy on November 13, 2023, after the public outcry surrounding the death and burial of Dexter Wade (no relation).
“You would think that we would have a death notification policy, but we do not,” Chief Wade said at a news briefing with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba. Melissa Faith Payne, mentioned earlier, said that the new policy was enacted to ensure that police contact next of kin in cases handled by the department but she did not elaborate further. Here are the new procedures according to the release Courtesy of Jackson Police Department:
The Hinds County Police Department and Hinds County Coroner’s Office have been widely criticized and faulted, rightly so, for their failures to properly inform the families of the deaths of their loved ones. Mississippi law requires coroners to “make reasonable efforts” to notify the family of someone who has died, and if their body goes unclaimed for more than five days, county authorities can bury it.
In both the Wade and Moore cases, the coroner’s office and the police department say that efforts were made to contact the families, but at least in the Wade and Hankins cases, this almost doesn’t make sense since the families were in regular contact with the authorities regarding their respective missing persons cases.
“I think that this story out of Jackson about the 215 bodies being buried and forgotten about with callous disregard for the dignity of the deceased and indifference to the families points to a larger issue of which crime gets inflated, and which crime gets swept under the rug.”
She goes on to mention a water crisis that Jackson has faced for years and uses it to point to “a system that is set up to disregard the needs of especially the working class and poor residents of Jackson, a system that disregards dignity in life when it ignores the rights of people to access clean water, drivable roads, social services that are not underfunded, understaffed, and overwhelmed by a population in need, and even dignity in death when it shirks rights of people to proper burials and keeps families in the dark and without answers.”
If you or anyone you know from Jackson, MS is missing a loved one and have reason to believe they may be in this field, you can access the list of the deceased names’ right here, or you can get more information by contacting the coroner’s office in Hinds County here.
Our hearts and prayers here at Wrong Speak Publishing go out to the families of the deceased, and we will update this story as it continues to develop.
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