It was the smell that led to the discovery of a 58-year-old UNLV student who died in her dorm room last month.
A dorm counselor investigating a strange odor from the room found her body on Sept. 5 in Faiman Residence Hall. Las Vegas police quickly determined that foul play was not a factor. According to the coroner, she died of natural causes.
Faiman dorm residents didn’t know much about her.
Many were unaware of her death.
Nearly a month later, the body remains unclaimed because the Clark County coroner’s office has been unable to track down the woman’s next of kin.
“That creates a very unique situation for us,” Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said Tuesday.
The woman’s dorm mates in Faiman Hall, an upperclassmen residence hall that houses about 90 students, couldn’t add to what the coroner already knows.
“I didn’t’ know her,” one resident said Tuesday afternoon before entering Faiman Hall. “I don’t know if I ever saw her before.”
Most of the woman’s family, except for her sister, appears to have died, according to Murphy.
Per office policy, the coroner will not release the identity of the deceased until the next of kin is notified. But the woman’s next of kin, her sister, has been tough to track down.
“We’re struggling with trying to find where the legal next of kin is,” Murphy said. The coroner’s office has been working with UNLV police and local police departments in the Midwest to find the sister.
Murphy said the woman did leave contact information for a relative with UNLV, but it was out of date.
“Unfortunately it was a dead end. The information was no longer accurate,” said Murphy, adding that his office is “working diligently” to find the surviving sister.
UNLV officials haven’t disclosed details about the dead student.
The university won’t release her class standing, her major, how long she had lived in the dorm, or whether she had a roommate.
University officials said counselors and staff are available to assist students or staff who may have been affected by the woman’s death.
Murphy said that cases like this represent an extremely small percentage of the deaths his office handles, but a procedure is in place for dealing with them.
In most cases involving an unclaimed body, the body is cremated after about 90 days and the ashes are placed into one of the county’s crypts. The timeline isn’t fixed, Murphy said, and his staff will hold off if they feel they haven’t exhausted every possible lead.
“That’s what our job is,” Murphy said. “Every once in a while you end up with a case like this. No matter what direction you go, you hit a dead end.”
And even if this woman does go the route of the county’s crypts, Murphy said that they will continue efforts to find the dead woman’s closest relative.
“We won’t stop.”
Contact reporter Colton Lochhead at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.