Inside the Incredible Job of Wrapping Up a Dead Man's Life

Inside the death, and life, of George Bell
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 19, 2015 12:40 PM CDT

(Newser) – It wouldn't take a huge leap to assume that the man who had been dead for days in a trash-filled Queens apartment was George Bell. The apartment was his, and the 72-year-old lived with no one. Except his body was "decomposed and unrecognizable," writes N.R. Kleinfeld for the New York Times. In an 8,000-word piece, Kleinfeld charts the "elaborate, lurching process" that kicked into gear after the body was found on July 12, 2014, one stymied by the fact that Bell had no next of kin. The corpse's fingerprints registered no match when run against local and national databases, leading the medical examiner's office to start dialing local hospitals on the hunt for X-rays that a doctor might have possibly taken of Bell—which could be compared to X-rays of the corpse. In terms of managing the estate, the Queens County public administrator quickly stepped in, sending two investigators who combed through the stench-filled apartment in hazmat suits.

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A caseworker formally known as a "decedent property agent" then set to trying to piece together a picture of a man from what the investigators found: old holiday cards and "a golden find," tax returns. Confirmation that the corpse was Bell's finally came in November (via X-rays from 2004 that were somewhat miraculously found in a warehouse), and cremation followed. But much more was to come: auctioning Bell's car, selling his apartment, and distributing his half-a-million in assets to the people he had chosen—but the city had to find them first. Kleinfeld paints a picture of the people who were touched by his money, and then of Bell himself. As Kleinfeld puts it, "Every life deserves to come to a final resting place, but they’re not all pretty." Take the time to read his full piece here, or some of the response to it here. (Read more dead bodies stories.)

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