This week’s Scene has two stories from me about life after death. In one, I visit a few of Northeast Ohio’s hidden potter’s fields — the places where the poor and forgotten are buried. In the other, I profile the case of an unidentified man who washed ashore off Lake Erie last year.
Those two stories have got me thinking quite a bit about death — particularly the second one, which forced me to reckon with the likelihood that there is no one looking for this man. According to the county’s medical examiner, he died no more recently than late 2013; he could have died years prior, in fact. And in the time since his body was discovered, no leads have panned out.
I wonder: How is that possible?
The official word is that he died in “early winter or earlier.” That’d be late 2013 thereabouts, though it’s possible he died several years prior. No one can say for sure, because there’s only so much decomposition a body can undergo. Nonetheless, the man was found in Lake Erie on May 23, 2014, near the break wall by Burke Lakefront Airport. It was a clear and crisp day, and the waves were gentle.
The man was wearing a pair of 36×32 Wranglers and black, Brahma-brand steel-toe boots, size 7.5. (Brahmas are carried at Walmart and Sears.) He was between the ages of 45 and 58, and he was white. According to the medical examiner’s notes, he had no teeth. He may have been wearing dentures at the time of his death, he may not have.
At some point, the man’s nose and left cheek had been broken. Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner Thomas Gilson says the nose was broken sometime during his lifetime — possibly years prior to his death — making that a particularly noteworthy detail. Perhaps there was a family somewhere looking for a father or a husband, and perhaps he had a crooked nose.