A Box of Ashes Becomes a Cold Case

While the death of a son brings heartbreak to a mother, the theft of his ashes makes for a heart twice-broken. Thankfully, this story doesn’t end there, but it took years before its conclusion came to light.

My husband Harry and I moved to Florence in 1995 from Burbank, California.  In November of that same year, my 32-year-old son Jim, passed away in California.

In 2000, Harry and I returned to California for an employment opportunity. Knowing the move would be a temporary one, we placed some of our possessions (crab pots, household items and a box with my son’s ashes) into a locked storage unit adjacent to my dad’s carport on Woahink Drive in Dunes City. In time, my dad came to live with us in California and his Woahink home was placed with a property management company as a rental. Sadly, dad passed away in 2002.

Harry and I retired in 2005 and permanently moved back to Florence. We found my father’s house to be in a horrible state – the tenants had been evicted, the copper wiring stripped out, many fixtures were missing from the interior, and the storage unit with my son’s ashes was ransacked and emptied. Needless to say, we were upset, shocked and devastated, but knew there was nothing we could do about it at that point.

A number of years passed when I received a phone call from the Florence Police Department. Sergeant Harry Johnson inquired as to whether I knew someone named Pinto. I replied Pinto had been my name from a prior marriage, and that my deceased son who died in 1995, was named Jim Pinto. The officer then politely informed me that years ago, a box of ashes labelled with my son’s name had been found and turned over to the Police Department. Sergeant Johnson explained the police had made many attempts to locate the family of Jim Pinto, but were unsuccessful. He revealed the box had been stored in the police evidence room for all of those years.

The Sergeant went on to say that in 2014, he contacted Pat Rongey to provide assistance on this case. Pat was training with the Florence Police Citizen’s Academy and was a volunteer at the Police Department, as well as a member of the Siuslaw Genealogical Society for many years. Utilizing her research experience in genealogy, she was able to establish a path to me and has allowed me to reconnect with my son. I am forever grateful to the Florence Police Department and Pat Rongey.”

Sandy Zinn

In 2014 SGS member Pat Rongey was given a slip of paper by Sergeant Johnson. On it was written a name, “California” and a set of numbers. Pat discovered the numbers to be the crematorium’s ID number assigned to the ashes. She began calling California crematoriums and with that ID number, learned the name of the original mortuary. She discovered it had since been closed, and despite further efforts, was unable to locate their records. Using Ancestry and Family Search she was unable to confidently verify an exact identification for the decedent without a birthdate or date of death. Pat reached out to Search Angels and the Troy Dunn organization, which had produced such television programs as The Locator, APB with Troy Dunn and Last Hope with Troy Dunn. From both organizations, she received matching responses of a birth date. With this information, Pat was able to verify the decedent’s family information and conclude her research with confidence. She presented her findings of the name and location of Jim Pinto’s mother, to Sergeant Johnson – all within two days of receiving that slip of paper.

Pat Rongey has been doing genealogy research for most of her adult life and has been a member of the Siuslaw Genealogical Society for over 20 years. In the past 2 ½ years, Pat has helped reconnect 57 adoptees with their biological families.

About siuslawgenealogy

The Siuslaw Genealogical Society of Florence, Oregon is a member supported, non profit organization. Researching genealogy and family history is our passion.
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