After a half-day of mourning, Anchorage family gets ''dead'' brother back

Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Word of Anchorage resident Neil Beaton's death early Wednesday shocked his family.

But not nearly as much as Neil Beaton himself.

Beaton was found at home, very much alive, after a case of mistaken identity led authorities to declare him dead for a few hours Wednesday.

A police officer arrived at the home of Beaton's sister, Lauretta MacBeth, at 1 a.m. Wednesday to say her brother had been found dead in a downtown alley.

''I was shouting, 'I can't believe this. What do you mean you found him?''' MacBeth said. ''You don't want to believe it.''

The identification was positive, the officer said. Her brother Neil Beaton Jr.'s wallet and ID were found on the body, the photos matched.

MacBeth hugged the policeman when he left and began the awful chore of calling relatives and friends with the bad news.

There were a lot of calls to make. There's a brother mining in Guatemala, an elderly cousin in Nova Scotia, two sisters, a brother and their 74-year-old father who is in fragile health.

''My brother died face down in an alley,'' John Beaton said. ''The first thing I thought of is did I tell him I loved him the last time I saw him. I did, so that helped a little.''

MacBeth lit a candle and wept.

As the hours passed, the family talked. They wondered how he died. Police said there were no signs of violence on the body. An autopsy was being done.

MacBeth called the funeral home. The family debated whether Neil would want to be buried or cremated and decided on cremation, with his ashes to be scattered over the Yukon gold field where he and his father worked together for 15 years.

Then she faced a task she had avoided -- calling Neil's girlfriend, Daisy Clark, to break the news. The two lived together at a downtown boarding house.

The man who answered the phone said ''Oh my God'' when MacBeth explained the reason for her call.

He went down the hall and knocked on their door. MacBeth heard him shout, ''Neil, what are you doing here. You're supposed to be dead.''

As Neil recalls, the man said: ''Your sister's on the phone. They found your body last night.''

By midafternoon, members of the Beaton family were laughing with joy, trying to explain to themselves and others the emotional boomerang that had overtaken them.

''You picture your brother dead,'' John Beaton said. ''You think about how many times you missed not going fishing with him, not camping with him, and the next second it's all a bad dream.''

A second round of calls began. Everyone who had been told Neil was dead now had to be told he was alive.

Soon, the official call came. Someone was pleased to inform her that the fingerprints of the corpse did not match her brother.

''We know,'' MacBeth told the caller. ''We've been talking to him for an hour.''

There's a simple explanation for the error. Neil Beaton lost his wallet about a week ago. He thinks he might have left it in a cab. The dead man who had his wallet apparently bore an uncanny resemblance. Like Beaton he was tall and red-haired.

The Beatons aren't angry at anyone for the mixup.

''This has drawn my family so close together,'' MacBeth said. ''I haven't heard so many I love yous in so long.''

Neil was the only Beaton relatively unaffected by the day's events. He never thought he was dead.

''They were going to cremate me tomorrow,'' Neil said, smiling. ''I know it was really bad for them.''

And, since the subject came up, Neil told his family he doesn't want to be cremated. He wants to be buried in the cemetery in downtown Anchorage.

Neil is curious about the man who supposedly looked so much like him, had his identity and died in an alley.

Police spokesman Ron McGee said police learned the identity of the dead man from a fingerprint match, but have not released his name, pending notification of next of kin.

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