What do you do with someone else's ashes?

| 29 Sep 2011 | 09:16

MILFORD - One day last summer as she was entering the store, Peggy Shekailo found a lovely urn sitting on the doorstep in front of My Place Sales. There was no one around - no evidence of where it might have come from. That was the start of it. Shekailo carried the urn inside and gave it to store owner Barbara Richardson. When Richardson opened it, she found a plastic bag of ashes, with a stamp from a crematorium in Connecticut. While the nature of the discovery might have given pause to some people, Richardson wasn’t fazed. “A lot of weird things happen around here,” she said. Richardson set an employee to track down the owner by calling the Charter Oak Crematorium in Oxford, Connecticut. This led to a funeral director in Danbury, who provided a toll-free number and a name of the next of kin, a T.J. Kennedy. “I called four times and left messages about a personal matter, for (Kennedy), but he never returned my calls. He probably thought I was someone selling something,” Richardson said. Richardson sells motorcycle accessories and attends a lot of shows to sell her merchandise. After being away later in the summer she returned and found the urn was gone. “I though someone had picked it up.” She put it out of her mind, but a little over a month ago, her visiting grandchildren discovered the urn, concealed under a table in the store. “They’re only 4 and 5. I’m glad they didn’t dump it to help grandma out,” she said. So the search was renewed. This time Richardson called Milford Funeral Director and Pike County Coroner, Kevin Stroyan. Stroyan wouldn’t take the urn, but he repeated her calls of the prior summer. Once again, using the serial number on the tag, Stroyan got the same information, but also got the name of deceased, Joan Kelleher. “Then I knew who she was. I’d been calling her ‘the dear departed,’” Richardson said. She called again and this time, after mentioning Kelleher’s name in the message, she said Kennedy returned her call. Upon explaining the situation to him, Richardson learned that Kennedy was located nearby at 133 Route 6, “right down the block from me.” She said Kennedy explained that he didn’t know what had happened to the urn and after learning her location, assured her that he would be by to pick it up, Richardson said. Two weeks passed, but Kennedy never appeared. Richardson drove down Route 6 looking for number 133, “but it never jumped out at me,” she said. She wondered if he was located in some other Milford in another state. Frustrated again, Richardson finally contacted the Courier. “I’m looking for help. Can the newspaper help me?” she wrote. The Courier was able to contact T.J. Kennedy at his office at Professional Financial Lending in Milford. But Kennedy had a different story. After hearing Richardson’s account, Kennedy said he had no recollection of any telephone conversation with her. “That’s not the kind of phone call I’d be likely to forget,” he said. Kennedy was familiar with the crematorium and said the body of his Aunt, Joan Kelleher, was cremated there after her death three years ago. He said he could not recall the name of the funeral home that handled the arrangements. However, he added. “I have my aunt’s ashes at my home, next door.” So it was back to the phones. Jack Clifford, manager at the Charter Oak Crematorium, recalled Richardson’s call and referred her to Green’s Funeral Home in Danbury. Tom Rickert of Green’s also recalled Richardson’s call and the case. Rickert checked his records again and found the serial number corresponding to Joan Kelleher. He said his signed receipt showed that T.J. Kennedy had accepted the “cremains” following the funeral. Rickert said there could be no mistake in which remains Kennedy received. “That’s precisely why we keep such detailed records,” he said. “I live up by the crematorium. I hand-delivered the ashes.” But Rickert went on to say that he had recently called Kennedy, after hearing from Richardson. “I told him, we handed those remains over to him and he needed to take care of this.” According to Rickert, Kennedy told him what he believed had happened. Kennedy reported that he had moved and the ashes had been left in trunk of his car. “He said that he felt that a friend had played a trick on him when he brought his car to him to be repaired,” Rickert recalled. Kennedy has not responded to repeated telephone requests for further comment on the subject and as of Wednesday, Richardson said she had heard nothing from him. The urn continues to sit behind the counter at My Place Sales and Richardson says it will until its claimed. “I couldn’t throw it out. Somebody must have thought a lot of this person. That urn is expensive,” she said. Richardson says she tells incredulous customers that the urn contains a ghost that keeps watch over the store at night. “I guess she’ll stay right here. She hasn’t complained,” Richardson said.