Wrong man buried? Death mix-up gets new twist — a possible third body
SANTA ANA — The already bizarre story of a homeless man who was misidentified as a dead transient, only to surprise his family by showing up very much alive, has taken another twist — a third body might be involved.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Orange County Coroner officials of misidentifying a body found last year outside a Verizon store in Fountain Valley, and that they knowingly released the wrong body to a funeral home to conceal a mistaken identity blunder involving Frankie M. Kerrigan.
The suit, which seeks $5 million in damages, contends Fountain Valley fire and police department reports gave descriptions of a body that looked nothing like Kerrigan, and that coroner officials ignored that description when they told Kerrigan’s relatives that he was dead.
The complaint also accuses the coroner’s office of knowingly passing off another corpse to Kerrigan’s family, hoping no one would notice.
Officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the Coroners Office, declined to comment.
In June, after the mix-up was revealed — and when Kerrigan turned out to be alive — the county exhumed a body that was identified as John Dickens, 54, of Kansas. Dickens’ body was cremated and his ashes shipped to his family.
The Orange County Coroner’s Office has said Dickens was identified through fingerprints. Reports also show that Dickens’ body, at about 5 feet 10 inches tall, 170 pounds, with light brown hair, generally matches the description of Kerrigan.
“He fit into the clothes the Kerrigan family bought for Frankie’s funeral and burial,” said V. James DeSimone, a Marina del Rey attorney who is representing Frankie Kerrigan’s family.
But the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, offers a possible new twist: The body found in Fountain Valley was neither Kerrigan nor Dickens. Instead, an official description of that body doesn’t match either man.
“There may be another family who doesn’t know about their deceased loved one,” said DeSimone.
DeSimone provided the Register with a Fountain Valley Fire Department report that describes the dead man as being about 65 years old and weighing about 250 pounds. A second report, from the Fountain Valley Police Department, says the body was discovered on the ground next to a wheelchair.
Kerrigan, a 57-year-old transient, is, like Dickens, about 170 pounds. He also has short, light-colored hair. And, like Dickens, Kerrigan does not use a wheelchair, DeSimone said.
The notion that a third body might be involved isn’t totally new to the Kerrigan story.
Robinson Ivory, a then 19-year-old Verizon employee who found the body behind the Fountain Valley store, said last year that the person he saw didn’t look like published photos of Frankie Kerrigan.
“He (the dead man) has long hair… And (he) was bigger than him (Frankie Kerrigan),” Ivory said.
The ordeal began May 6, 2017, when the Orange County Coroner told Francis J. Kerrigan, 82, of Wildomar, that his son, Frankie, had been found dead. The elder Kerrigan says that when he asked coroner officials if he should identify his son’s body he was told it wasn’t necessary because the body had already been identified through fingerprints.
Meanwhile, Frankie Kerrigan’s sister, Carole Meikle, 56, of Silverado, went to the Fountain Valley location where she’d been told her brother died. Though she was told her brother died peacefully, she found a death scene covered in blood and dirty blankets, according to the lawsuit.
There were other inconsistencies as well, the Kerrigans claim.
Meikle, according to the lawsuit, was told that her brother had been found with a wallet that contained $56 and an identification card that confirmed his identity. But when his possessions were delivered to the family the wallet had no money or identification. What’s more, Frankie Kerrigan’s most prized possessions, which he carried with him at all times — a black attache case, a watch, and a favorite writing pen — were missing.
Still, the Kerrigan family held a funeral. On May 12, at Holy Family Catholic Cathedral in Orange, about 50 people came out as far as Washington State and Las Vegas to mourn Frankie Kerrigan.
Then, on May 23, Bill Shinker, of Stanton, a long-time family friend who had been a pallbearer at the funeral called the elder Kerrigan to say that Frankie was alive and standing on the porch of his former home, also in Stanton. The younger Kerrigan soon got on the phone and said, “Hi, Dad, how are you doing?”
On June 7, the Orange County Coroner’s Office confirmed that the man erroneously identified and buried as Frankie Kerrigan was Dickens.
DeSimone believes Dickens’ body was not recovered outside of the Verizon store, and instead a third unknown individual was found at the location.
“The coroner’s office realized the body recovered… looked nothing like Frankie sometime after informing (Francis) Kerrigan of Frankie’s death, but before releasing a body to (the funeral home),” DeSimone said, adding that the body they did release “looked close enough” to Kerrigan.
Chapman Funeral Home, named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, also declined to comment.
No explanation has been provided from the Sheriff’s Department regarding how the mix-up occurred.
If the Kerrigan’s version of the mix-up is true, and a third body was found, it raises some questions: Where did the body found in Fountain Valley go? And who was he?
“It’s not that hard to keep track of dead people,” DiSimone said. “It’s not like they move around very much.”
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