Picture: www.pexels.com

Orange County — Authorities on Wednesday exhumed the body of a Southern California man who was mistakenly buried three months ago after a body mix-up.

The coffin of John Dickens, 54, was removed from Holy Sepulcher Cemetery by the Orange County coroner's office.

At the family's request, Dickens will be cremated and his ashes sent to his mother, 72-year-old Karen Bilyeu of Cherryvale, Kansas, the Orange County Register reported.

"It's about time it was done," Dickens' sister, Diane Keaton, 52, of Parsons, Kansas told the newspaper. "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."

Dickens, a US Army veteran, was homeless and suffered from mental illness.

His family hadn't heard from Dickens in decades when he died of an enlarged heart in May. His body was found outside a Verizon store in Fountain Valley.

However, the coroner's division of the county Sheriff's Department identified it as that of another homeless man, Frank M. Kerrigan, 57.

Kerrigan's family members said they were wrongly told that the body had been identified through fingerprints. They buried remains they thought were Kerrigan's on May 12.

Eleven days later, he showed up at a family friend's house.

The coroner's office finally confirmed Dickens' identity through fingerprints and notified his family in late June.

"I am very grateful that this man can head back to his family," said Carole Meikle, 56, of Silverado Canyon, who is Kerrigan's sister. 

"I have mixed emotions. It has been challenging going through this and having him buried there all this time. It's heart-wrenching."

Matthew Eaton, an attorney for the Kerrigan and Dickens families, has filed complaints with the county seeking $3 million in damages. Such claims often precede lawsuits.

The complaints contend that authorities didn't properly try to confirm the identity of the body because Dickens and Kerrigan were homeless.

The Sheriff's Department is investigating the mix-up and has apologised for any grief it caused the families.

Associated Press