Updated Wed, Jun 12, 2013 8:37 am
The body of a man murdered in his Orient home June 1 remains unclaimed at the Franklin County morgue because investigators have been unable to locate his next of kin, according to Robert Radcliff, Pickaway County Sheriff.
Anyone with information on surviving family members of Harry K. Butler, 68, is urged to contact the detective bureau of the Pickaway County Sheriff's Office.
"We've exhausted every avenue we can think of, and we haven't been able to come up with anyone," Radcliff said. "We've gone through the VA, through the other victim's family, through funeral homes and hospital records, and we're just coming up empty."
Butler and his long-time companion, Eugenia Anderson, 62, were murdered in their home on Fairfield Road (state Route 762) by Michael S. Melrose, who killed himself in front of deputies who arrived on the scene in response to a 911 call from the home that Saturday night.
Radcliff said investigators know Butler had two daughters, but one was killed in a traffic accident several years ago. The current name and whereabouts of the remaining daughter, if she is still alive, remains a mystery.
Although Butler and Anderson were not married, they owned their home together and had a joint survivorship agreement between them. That agreement, however, requires further investigation into its legalities because Anderson technically died first.
Anderson was found dead in a back bedroom of the home when deputies arrived on the scene; Butler, however, was still alive when deputies arrived and died en route to the hospital in Columbus.
According to Judy Wolford, Pickaway County Prosecutor, a joint survivorship agreement generally provides for ownership of property and any legal rights to transfer to the surviving partner at the death of the other. Since Anderson died first, those rights would have transferred to Butler. It depends on the wording of the agreement, she said, as to how it would be handled since they died so close together.
Anderson has a surviving daughter in California, as well as a sister, Linda, and other family members near Reynoldsburg. Don Reed, her brother-in-law, said Anderson's body will be cremated and her ashes delivered to her daughter. There will be no local services.
Reed said he will always remember Anderson as a funny person.
"She was a joking type, just a really nice person," Reed said. "For her life to end that way, it's just horrible."
He said he and his wife believe Butler's remains should also be dealt with as soon as possible.
"We need to have closure for him, too," Reed said. "If they can find his daughter, that's fine, but he needs to be buried. He can't just be sitting there like that in limbo."
A call to Dr. Jan M. Gorniak, Franklin County Coroner, was not returned on Tuesday.
Wolford said there really is no set time limit for how long a body is held by a coroner's office while searching for next of kin, and Butler's unusual circumstances complicate the matter even more.
"If a body is unclaimed, it's usually because the person is indigent, and it then falls upon the township where they lived to claim the body," she said. "But he wasn't indigent. He wasn't destitute. And if that's the case, the township won't bury you. It's an unusual situation."
Butler was an Air Force veteran, according to John Rush, vice commander-elect of the AMVETS post in Harrisburg of which Butler was a member, and the post has offered $3,000 to help offset his funeral expenses. The problem, he said, is they do not have the authority to claim the body.
Though Butler suffered from health problems, Rush said he faithfully attended post meetings and participated as often as possible.
"We're as close to a family as he had," Rush said. "He had COPD, but he'd bring his oxygen canister and was always here for our meetings and things at the post. We would really like to be able to do something for him."
In addition to Butler's circumstances, Reed said he and his wife were disturbed when they learned a private memorial service for Melrose, the couple's killer, was planned to be held at the Harrisburg VFW post on Thursday.
"I'm sorry, but that's just wrong," Reed said. "Melrose wasn't even a veteran. He killed a veteran, and yet they were going to hold his memorial service at a veteran's facility."
Howard McCarley, commander of the Harrisburg VFW, said Tuesday that those plans changed, and there will not be any type of service or gathering for Melrose at their facility.
McCarley said Melrose's parents had been members of the local post several years ago. He described them as good people and good helpers at the post, so when they asked to hold a private family gathering for a couple of hours, the post agreed.
Anderson's family and several veterans planned to protest the gathering, however, and the plans were changed. It is now unknown where services for Melrose, if any, will be held.
"I understand it wasn't his family that did it," Reed said. "But you don't just murder a veteran and then have the VFW hold your funeral there. That's just not right. Everybody deserves a decent funeral, but there's surely someplace else they can do it."