PINELLAS PARK — In recent months, a woman entered Hospice Woodside. Seeming lucid, she told the staff she was widowed and had no family.
As her illness worsened, hospice workers asked Murtice Graf if there was anything special they could do for her.
She requested only that she not die alone.
Mrs. Graf died Nov. 7, a hospice nurse by her side. She was 82.
Her body went to a funeral home that handles unclaimed remains for Pinellas County, one of several hundred such cases each year.
The hospice would not say when Mrs. Graf checked in or what her illness was, citing privacy laws. One friend sometimes visited.
"We always think of funerals and mourners and people getting together, and here was somebody who was alone, had one friend, and we sort of adopted her when she came to our hospice," said hospice spokeswoman Louise Cleary.
The friend did not want to be named or comment for this story. Most of the details of Mrs. Graf's life also remain a mystery.
But fragments that do emerge paint a portrait of an attractive woman who loved to dance late into the night, at least until a few years ago when she lived in Corpus Christi, Texas.
There is also reason to believe that Mrs. Graf did have surviving family members.
Two people who knew her in Texas said Mrs. Graf had two sons, Rodney and Robert, who were living in Corpus Christi at the same time she was. In 1997, Tampa General Hospital placed a $15,000 lien on Rodney Graf for unpaid hospital bills. The following year, Murtice Graf declared bankruptcy.
Documents for both actions list the same address on 79th Terrace N in St. Petersburg.
• • •
Mrs. Graf and Rodney appear to have moved to Corpus Christi during the late 1990s or early 2000s. At one point, Mrs. Graf owned a house jointly with Lou Carolyn Jordan in Corpus Christi. Her account and that of another woman provide the most detailed picture of Mrs. Graf available, but must be filtered through the lens of broken friendships.
"All she wanted to do was go nightclubbing and dancing," said Jordan, 71. The two women were friends until they had a falling out over a business deal, Jordan said.
Mrs. Graf and Rodney then moved in with Maxine Hudson, who lived across the street from Robert Graf. They stayed about a year.
Hudson, 78, described Mrs. Graf as a slim, attractive woman who could be kind and thoughtful — and also as a septuagenarian party girl who stayed out until 3 or 4 a.m.
"She didn't want a commitment with a man, she just wanted a guy to take her to a nice place to eat and then go dancing," said Hudson. "She didn't have any trouble getting a guy."
At times, Mrs. Graf and son Rodney would be gone while they delivered phone books to other cities. They moved into an apartment but left no forwarding address, Hudson said. The friendship ended badly after Hudson refused to hold onto their mail.
Hudson does not remember the name of Mrs. Graf's late husband. Mrs. Graf told the hospice her husband died 27 years ago.
"I think he built houses, if I'm not mistaken," said Hudson.
The Social Security Death Index shows a Robert H. Graf dying in 1983, in Carroll County, Md., at age 57. Although online "people-finding" services can be unreliable, at least one of them, Accurint, shows Mrs. Graf living in Carroll County, Md., in 1983.
Public records cited by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in 2004 show that Robert Harvey Graf Jr., then 49, was sentenced to five years in prison for an alcohol-related driving offense. Neither Rodney nor Robert Graf could be located for this story.
According to Hudson, Mrs. Graf also had a sister in St. Petersburg, Louise Miller. Miller could not be reached for comment.
But after hearing a phone message from a reporter, Miller's daughter-in-law called the funeral home holding Mrs. Graf's unclaimed remains.
The relative told Cheryl Paul, an administrator at A Life Tribute Funeral Care, that Miller was too ill to handle burial. A Life Tribute handles unclaimed remains for Pinellas County. Mrs. Graf's body will likely be cremated early next week. After three months, in accordance with county procedure, a boat will take those remains three miles offshore, along with those of others whose relatives either cannot be found or are indigent.
Workers deposit all remains into the Gulf of Mexico without ceremony. A Life Tribute handled 619 unclaimed people in 2009 and is on pace to surpass that number in 2010, said Bill McQueen of Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, which owns A Life Tribute.
Cleary said her hospice policy does not let anyone die alone. "I think a lot of us hope that doesn't happen to us," she said.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.