Civil rights attorney Ben Crump issued a clarion call for justice on behalf of the relatives, friends, and close associates of 215 people buried in the pauper’s cemetery behind the Hinds County jail in Raymond without notification of their relatives and close associates.
On Wednesday, December 28, the Hinds County Coroner released the full list of
672 bodies buried in the Pauper’s Field covering the years 2008-2023. Documents obtained by
NBC News presented a list of 215 burials between the years 2016-2023 where no notification
was given to the decedents’ families. The name, age, race, birth and death dates were included
for all 672 listed in the coroner’s records. In many cases, burials were consigned to Pauper’s
Field because the families could not pay the costs of burial services. Attorneys Crump and Dennis Sweet of Jackson called for a full review of all 672 cases Wednesday.
Crump and co-counsel Sweet brought together family members and friends of three of the men whose identities were easily established for a press briefing at Stronger Hope Church in North Jackson on Dec. 20.
Some family members said they were surprised when they learned that they have to “buy back” the remains of their loved ones in order to give them a proper burial in a better graveyard.
An investigative report by NBC News on December 18 listed a roster of 215 such burials in the pauper’s field since 2016 that was provided by the coroner’s office under a public records request. It was necessary to use 2016 as the cutoff year due to there being no records of the burials before then.
Lending their voices to the call for justice were the relatives and close associates of three of the deceased who could have been easily identified but were buried in the crude, unkempt graveyard behind Hinds County jail without the notification of their families or associates by JPD or the Hinds County coroner. Although the three families had filed missing person reports and sought their assistance, the authorities failed to contact them. One mother said she was in weekly contact with police authorities for over a year-and-a half before learning of her son’s death from the NBC report on a national database of such deaths.
“We’re going to fight to bring them the honor, the dignity, and the respect and justice they deserve,” Crump said.
Mary Moore Glenn is the mother of Marrio Moore, 40, whose battered body was left on a Jackson street on Feb. 2 wrapped in a gray and blue tarp. Marrio’s death was clearly a homicide and though he had identity papers, his family was never given notice prior to his burial in the pauper’s field in Raymond.
“I never thought that he would leave ahead of me,” the mother said. “He’s gone away, my baby. And they threw him in a hole like he wasn’t nobody, like he wasn’t important. Me and my family deserve better than that.”
Surprisingly, after learning of Marrio’s burial in the shabby graveyard, Glenn and her family were compelled to pay $250 to get a death certificate to reclaim the body.
“We had to buy him back from the state,” she said. “In order to do anything, to get a death certificate, we had to buy him back from the state.”
Marrio’s interred cadaver was classified as state property. And his mother had to pay the required $250. She is still waiting for the coroner’s report.
Gretchen Hankins of Florence reported that her son, Jonathan, 39, left her house on May 20, 2022, after one of his routine visits there. He was found dead on May 23, 2022, in a Jackson hotel room.
“I didn’t know it for a year and seven months,” she said, having learned of his death from a chance sighting of the death roster featured on NBC News. “It’s like they threw him out like trash, just like they did the others.”
Jonathan Hankins was identified through a fingerprint file. Due to his involvement with drugs, he had had some run-ins with the law, the reason for his prints being in the police files. “They found out who he was and they still did not contact me,” the mother said.
Gretchen Hankins says she can’t get the death certificate or anything right now.
“I have to wait, wait, wait,” she said. “I don’t understand. They should have given me one as soon as they found out. And they should have brought it to my house. They want $250 for the death certificate.
“A reporter (Jon Schuppe) from New York came down and showed me information where they had buried him. And they had my address on there. So, I know they knew how to get a hold of me. I was reporting him to Rankin County every week, sometimes twice a week and they still hadn’t heard anything. I was reporting him in June. He was already dead. And they didn’t tell me that. I felt like Rankin County and Hinds County are not doing their jobs at all. There’s no telling what they’re doing that we don’t know about.”
Bettersten Wade was the catalyst behind the persistent probing of the pauper’s burial issue. Her son Dexter, 37, run over by an off-duty JPD officer in a traffic accident on I-55 in March 2023, was overlooked in the missing person’s reports she filed with the JPD. He had, however, a state identification card that included both his and his mother’s address. It was only after a pathologist found a wallet in Wade’s pants pocket with his name, address, state ID, and phone number that the connection between the buried body and the missing person’s report was established.
Bettersten was familiar with and known to the police department because of the death of her brother, George Robinson, at the hands of the police in 2019.
Wade filed a wrongful death suit against JPD, after three officers pulled her brother out of his vehicle and body-slammed him to the ground. Dennis Sweet was her lawyer in the wrongful death legal action.
One of the officers, Anthony Fox, was convicted of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years. Attorney General Lynn Fitch asked that the conviction be reversed. It was not.
“JPD killed my son, killed my brother. And I’m still looking for answers. But I don’t get nothing,” Wade said. “They gave me a death certificate, but I had to pay for it. I paid $250 before I could even go down there and get registered to get a death certificate. They had to call vital records. I couldn’t get nothing until I gave them $250 to buy the rights to get a death certificate and a coroner’s report.
“We need justice for our loved ones,” she said. “We brought them into the world, and now the state is making us pay to get our rights back.”
“It is troubling that we’re getting calls now almost every day from families who are missing loved ones,” Crump said. “And they are calling Jon Schuppe of NBC News asking, ‘can you help us identify our loved one, whether they are in their grave or not. We just know that they are missing around Jackson, MS and we haven’t heard anything from anybody.’ Like Mrs. Bettersten, they keep calling the police department trying to be notified somehow, but they get a wall of silence at best. And then they get the runaround at worst.”
The Jackson City Council issued an official apology to the Wade family on November 21, the day after Dexter Wade’s funeral. Mayor Lumumba offered “regrets” over the burial mishap in his State of the City address on Oct. 29 and he absolved JPD of any culpability in the man’s death, although it was an off-duty JPD officer who had fatally hit Wade with his vehicle on I-55. It was officially declared an accident.
Sweet called out city and county law enforcement for falling short in their duties to fully investigate crimes, especially homicides, that occur in their jurisdictions. “We can do better, Jackson. We must do better,” he said.
“They found this young man, Marrio Moore, with blunt force trauma to the face and head,” Sweet said. “That’s what you call murder. Why wasn’t there an investigation?
“I understand the city has a new notification policy. I don’t know what that could be. I was brought up on ‘The First 48 Hours.’ If you find somebody deceased, you’ve got to go through this investigation, do the crime scene. You go find out where they were during the last minutes. If they were a missing person, you investigate. Everybody will be notified if you investigate. If they are in missing persons, then you go and notify the family.”
Crump said the entire nation is puzzled by the recent developments in Jackson.
“People all across America are scratching their heads in disbelief about what’s happening in Jackson, MS with this pauper’s graveyard.
“I was in New York the other day, and they said, it went from talking about the water to now we’re talking about the graveyard. So now we are making a clarion call to leaders in Jackson and in the state of Mississippi to right this wrong. Let’s provide these families the dignity that their loved ones deserved.”