Mexicali coroner's refrigerators (image from El Mexicano)
After 18 years under refrigeration at the medical examiner's office in Mexicali, the body of a nondescript person believed to have been the victim of some long-ago foul play was finally laid to rest yesterday, October 15, in a Baja California pauper's grave.
The body, of indeterminate sex and age, had been kept at the medical examiner's office since 1995 on orders of state prosecutors, who claimed the case was still under investigation even though an autopsy had failed to establish a cause of death, the daily newspaper El Mexicano reported on Wednesday, October 16.
Coroner's officials told the newspaper that not only was the body never identified, they didn't even know where or how it had originally been discovered.
A second corpse, believed to be that of a woman, which has been under refrigeration for 12 years at the medical examiner's office, was expected to be taken away for burial early next week, according to El Mexicano.
The second body, also of indeterminate age, was discovered on the side of the Mexicali-to-Tijuana highway in 2001. While an autopsy could not establish that the victim met a violent death, prosecutors insisted that the body be preserved as part of a continuing investigation, the newspaper reported.
Both bodies were cleared for burial after state prosecutors agreed to sign the necessary documents. The release of the bodies ends a feud between prosecutors and the medical examiner in Mexicali, first publicized in July by El Mexicano.
But the story doesn't end there. Francisco Acuña Campa, the head of the medical examiner's office in Mexicali, told El Mexicano that there are currently 26 additional bodies awaiting release by prosecutors.
The Mexicali coroner's office has 50 refrigerated spaces in which to hold corpses. Campa said he was hopeful that a recently passed law would help reduce the body pileup caused by prosecutorial foot-dragging. The measure provides that, if a body remains unidentified for more than 15 days, it must be released for burial. Prosecutors can ask that a body be kept longer if they send an official document to the coroner explaining the reasons why.