The body of 57-year-old John Dickens has been exhumed from the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, more than three months after the Orange County coroner’s office misidentified his body as that of a man who is actually alive.
The body was exhumed Wednesday morning at the request of Dickens’ family, who also asked the Sheriff’s Department, which includes the coroner’s office, to cremate it, the Orange County Register reported Thursday.
“It’s about time it was done,” Diane Keaton, 52, who is Dickens’ sister and lives in Parsons, Kansas, told the Register in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It’s been quite a while since we were notified that his body had been identified. We want him home so bad. It’s finally going to happen.”
The ashes will be sent to Dickens’ mother, Karen Bilyeu, 72, who lives in Cherryvale, Kansas, according to the newspaper.
Dickens was discharged from the U.S. Army in the mid-1980s and began living with family members, Keaton told the Register. He decided to strike out on his own and eventually settled in California.
Keaton said her mother hired a private investigator who could not find John Dickens.
“My mom found out last year he was in the Orange County Jail, but by the time she contacted them he had already been released,” she added.
Dickens suffered frrom mental illness and had several run-ins with law enforcement in recent years, most recently in 2016, mostly for misdemeanors common to the homeless, such as public urination, according to the Register.
After family members confirmed Dickens had died, they assumed Orange County officials had buried him because he was indigent.
“We were never told about a body mix-up,” Keaton said, adding she learned from news reports he had been mistakenly buried. I just did my homework and figured it out.”
The sequence leading to Dickens’ burial began in early May when the Coroner’s Office mistakenly identified a body found behind a Verizon store in Fountain Valley as that of Frank M. Kerrigan, 57, who is homeless, The Register reported.
Kerrigan family members said Coroner’s Office officials told them Kerrigan had been positively identified through fingerprints, according to the newspaper, but that apparently wasn’t the case. The family held a funeral for Kerrigan on May 12, interring the body at Holy Sepulcher. Eleven days later, he showed up at a family friend’s house.
—City News Service