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Speaking for the Dead

A Denver coroner's investigator tracks down the families of the forgotten.

The decision to stop chasing an unknown isn't made lightly. Files get reviewed, investigators meet and exchange suggestions. "When we get to the point where nobody has any idea of how to proceed," says supervisor Bell, "that's when we close it."

Yet out of thousands of cases, the defeats have been few. The information is out there, Balbin tells her interns; the family is only a phone call away. Okay, maybe a bunch of phone calls away. It's their job to give the dead names and then get the dead to their people, to send them out of this world with a little more dignity than they may have found in it.

"I get to the point where I get mad," Balbin says. "I'm getting to know this person, and it becomes a personal battle. I am going to solve this case. That's my personality. One of my problems is knowing when enough is enough."

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