cremation urn

Rose Lyons was born back in 1836, when Andrew Jackson lived in the White House, the Battle of the Alamo raged for 13 days and Arkansas became the 25th state. Her life ended 70 years later following a stroke—a week after the massive 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

That much (and a little bit more) is known about Rose Lyons. What still is unknown is how an urn containing her cremated remains ended up at a storage facility in Modesto, CA. Tom Killian, deputy coroner in Stanislaus County, CA, is doing some detective work in a quest to solve the mystery.

The Lyons urn was one of three urns turned over recently to the Stanislaus County coroner by the new owner of Derrel’s Mini Storage in Modesto. The facility changed ownership in 2011, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the new owner handed over the three abandoned urns to the coroner’s office, according to the Merced Sun-Star.

Killian told the newspaper that the coroner’s office normally receives about 10 urns a year, but he’s never had to hunt for the family of somebody who died more than a century ago.

“Her remains have survived all this time,” Killian said. “Somebody is going to want them.”

Killian was able to locate Janice Levitan, a distant relative of Lyons who may wind up getting the urn if a closer relative isn’t found.

Pearl Partridge, a granddaughter of Lyons, was listed in cremation records as receiving Lyons’ ashes in July 1906, the Merced Sun-Star reported. But it’s still unclear how, more than 100 years later, the urn turned up at the Modesto storage facility.

This isn’t the first report of cremated remains being discovered at a storage facility.

  • Last August, a man bought the auctioned contents of a storage unit near Reno, NV. Among the items: an urn containing the ashes of a man who had died in 1993, according to TV station KOLO. A manager at the storage facility tracked down the man’s daughters and gave them the urn.
  • In 2009, the new owners of U-Store-It in Middleburg Heights, OH, discovered an urn holding the cremated remains of Val Torok, who had died in 1996. The man’s daughter said his ashes inadvertently were put in storage with other belongings a decade earlier, when she and her husband lost their home to foreclosure, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Later, the couple tried to retrieve their possessions, including the urn, but they were told the items mistakenly had been auctioned off. Eventually, the buyer returned the urn to the storage facility, where it was kept in a back-room locker for several years.
  • Back in 1997, authorities found roughly 2,000 cardboard boxes of cremated remains at a storage facility in Discovery Bay, CA, near San Francisco, according to The space was rented by a pilot who had been hired to scatter the remains from his airplane. The pilot committed suicide after cops launched a manhunt.

Photo courtesy of Merced Sun-Star