Originally created 04/02/97

Paupers' graves



Baby Jane Doe lies not far from a murdered man whose skeleton was found off Lumpkin Road.

Wild flowers dance in the March wind around them and others who rest in unmarked graves in the indigent section of Augusta's Magnolia Cemetery, one of three city cemeteries where people who die without family or funds are buried.

Indigents are buried by the city at a cost of $250, which includes cremation and burial in a cloth covered box, said Coroner Leroy Sims.

It's not much of a funeral, but Mr. Sims never lets anyone be buried unblessed.

"I always have a preacher or a priest or someone here to say something when we put the ashes in the ground," he said.

Poteet Funeral Home furnishes a metal marker with the name of the deceased and dates of birth and death. Unfortunately, many of the markers have been destroyed by lawn mowers or vandalized, Mr. Sims said.

A few people buried as indigents have more substantial headstones.

"These two were veterans, so the government put the markers here," Mr. Sims said.

The granite headstones of 38-year-old Kenneth J. Taylor Sr., who died in 1988, and WWII Army veteran Bill Burkell Wood, who died an indigent in 1992, were paid for by the government, as was the grave of Richard A. Germany, a Vietnam veteran who died at age 57.

"This lady here was German," said Mr. Sims, pointing to the grave of Colette Smith, who died in 1992 at age 55. "She came over to this country with her husband, who was an American GI. They divorced. When she died, I contacted him, and he told me I could do whatever I wanted to with her, he wasn't paying nothing. So we buried her down here."

Mrs. Smith's friends paid for her headstone, he said.

The grave of Baby Jane Doe is marked by a marble headstone with a tiny reclining angel, a gift from an Augusta women's club. White sand bordered by small stones serve in place of a slab.

Baby Doe, nicknamed "Baby Pumpkin" by Mr. Sims because she was born and died around Thanksgiving 1993, was found in a North Augusta recycling center.

Her body apparently was brought from Augusta across the state line to the North Augusta Materials Recovery Facility in a sanitation truck. Workers found her on a conveyer belt in a blue cloth bag, Mr. Sims said.

She appeared to have been carried to full term and was either stillborn or died during birth, he said.

"We know she came from somewhere on the Hill, around the McDowell Street area," he said.

Baby Doe was not cremated.

C.A. Ried Sr. Memorial Funeral Home furnished everything for her funeral, the casket, the vault and clothes, Mr. Sims said.

"I've never called him on any case that he didn't help me," Mr. Sims said.

A crowd turned out for Baby Doe's funeral, and someone puts flowers on her grave each Easter and Christmas, Mr. Sims said.

Mr. Sims arranges four or five such funerals a year, he said.

He also makes funeral arrangements for about three dozen other people who die with some sort of estate but who are unclaimed by family or friends.

Under Georgia law, if someone dies with an estate out of which funeral expenses can be paid, either in part or in whole, Mr. Sims gets a court order, takes it to the bank along with the funeral bill - usually around $5,000. The bank then issues a check payable to the funeral home.

Usually some family member can be located who will pay for part or all of the funeral, the coroner.

Mr. Sims located the family of Robert Donald Sellars, 26, whose skeletal remains were found in the woods off Lumpkin Road in 1995, but his family did not have the means to bury him, the coroner said.

Mr. Sellars had been murdered.

"He was shot," Mr. Sims said. "We found the bullet under the skeleton."

The city also buries indigents Westview and Cedar Grove cemeteries.