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He spent nearly a month looking desperately for his son – his body was at the coroner's office all along

Justin Smith died on June 18, but his father didn't learn that until July 12, when he got a tip about an unidentified body at the morgue.

By David Hammer / Eyewitness Investigator, Ben Myers / The Times-Picayune

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Published: 5:45 PM EDT August 23, 2023
Updated: 8:51 AM EDT August 27, 2023

Editor's Note: Prior to this story's publication, the New Orleans Police Department said that it did not receive a request from the Orleans Parish Coroner's Office to obtain fingerprints from the body of Justin Smith. 

Two days after publication, the NOPD amended its original statement. The NOPD acknowledged that the Coroner’s Office had requested a fingerprint analysis. The NOPD said it took the fingerprints, but an air-conditioning issue at NOPD headquarters prevented officers from conducting the analysis for more than two weeks after the Coroner’s Office request.

The story below has been updated to reflect the new information received after publication.

Who knows when Sidney Smith would have learned of his son’s death, if not for an unlikely tip about an unidentified body in the Orleans Parish morgue.

The body of Justin Smith, 42, had arrived at the office of Orleans Parish Coroner Dwight McKenna by June 19, four days after Justin left the Broadmoor home he shared with his father.

For nearly a month after his son disappeared, Sidney filed missing person reports, hired a private investigator and frantically scoured Justin’s usual spots in the French Quarter, where he worked for Sidney’s tour business and occasionally sold his artwork.

While Justin died on June 18, Sidney did not learn that until July 12, when Justin’s psychiatrist told him he'd heard that the coroner had a body that might match Justin’s description.

Sidney rushed to the Coroner’s Office on Earhart Boulevard with pictures of Justin.

“(A staffer) goes and comes back with the photos, and she nods her head and says ‘We have him.’ That just killed me,” Sidney recalled.

Sidney also said he was not allowed to see Justin’s body because it had decomposed, although records show it was well preserved when a Coroner’s Office pathologist performed the autopsy on June 19.

One of the coroner’s coolers used for storing bodies has been broken for months and still isn’t fixed, though it’s not clear if the cooler problem was the reason Justin’s body had decomposed.

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