Ever have the cremated remains of a loved one disappear? In Friday’s Albuquerque Journal, UpFront columnist Joline Gutierrez Krueger wrote this story, an appeal to help this family find the missing ashes of a man: a son, a father, a veteran. Joline gave me permission to run her article, in the hopes of spreading the search and finding the ashes of Jerry Honeycutt. Can you help?
Jerry Honeycutt died a painful death, his last anguished moments breaking the heart of his mother, who could not keep the cancer from wresting him from her arms.
Lord knows she tried.
My mother is 82, small, tiny,” daughter Judy Broden tells me from her home outside Detroit. “Jerry tried to keep his dying a secret from her. He didn’t want to see her suffer. But she kept pushing to find out until he finally got so bad he had to tell her. And she went right down there and took care of him for the last three months of his life. Nothing was going to stop her from that.”
Honeycutt, a former Army paratrooper with the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles” whose time in Vietnam earned him several medals and a lot of torment, died Aug. 27, 2008, at his home in Belleville, Mich., as his mother, Marie, held him tight. He was 59.
Not only did Marie lose her son that day, but she lost him — what remained of him — days after that.
Jerry was cremated. The plan, according to his will, was to have his ashes buried with his father in the family plot in Barbourville, Ky.
But J.J. Honeycutt, Jerry Honeycutt’s eldest son from the first of his two marriages, assumed control of the ashes as he says his father had requested.
That portion of the family had been estranged since the divorce — so estranged that Broden says nobody on her side of the family knows how to get in touch with J.J., his two siblings or the ex-wife. Only Jerry Honeycutt knew how.
Then, about five months ago, Broden says, she bumped into Jerry Honeycutt’s ex-wife in a Michigan grocery store. What the ex-wife had to say was stunning.
“She told me my brother’s ashes had been stolen,” Broden says. “In New Mexico.”
This, my readers, is where we come in.
I found J.J. Honeycutt a world away, stationed at an Air Force base in South Korea.
He explained that, before his father died, his father asked him to take his ashes and scatter them across a lake in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan — not in the family burial plot.
“My plan was to return to Michigan and finally put him to rest with the rest of the family,” he says.
But life, duty and deployments kept getting in the way.
At the time of his father’s death, J.J. says, he had been stationed in Illinois but was soon sent to Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis. He took the ashes with him.
In winter 2009, he was deployed to Afghanistan. He put his possessions and his father’s ashes into a storage unit in Clovis. He returned in July 2010 only to find the storage unit had been ransacked.
“They stole everything,” he says. “My medals, my clothing, my father.”
Also taken were 18 years of military keepsakes, lithographs, uniforms. His collections of Red Wings hockey memorabilia, shot glasses and magnets from around the world, Harley-Davidson helmets and clothing and souvenir bar lights were also taken.
J.J. estimates that about $25,000 in merchandise and mementos were stolen while he was serving his country in Afghanistan. His father’s ashes, though, were priceless.
The ashes were stored in a small, dark wooden box, possibly cherry wood, emblazoned with an American flag on one side. J.J. says he tucked two of the only photos of his father that exist inside the box along with the bag of ashes.
J.J. says he filed a police report and searched pawnshops from Albuquerque to Amarillo until he was transferred last November to South Korea.
“The day I left New Mexico, I simply accepted that everything that was taken I will never see again,” he says. “I have accepted that I will never see my father again.”
Broden says she has also accepted that her brother’s ashes are forever lost. But her mother, J.J.’s grandmother, has not, will not.
Her mother, she says, has not been told the ashes are stolen.
“That will kill her,” she says. “She still thinks J.J. has them.”
This column, she says, is her last hope of finding the ashes and easing her mother’s pain.
“She talks about it all the time, like it was yesterday,” Broden says. “She never had the closure she should have by putting Jerry to rest. It’s fresh to her every day, the horrible way he died. She relives it over and over.”
Whether Jerry Honeycutt gets to be buried in the family plot or scattered across the lake is up to the family to decide.
Whether they get that chance is up to you. Perhaps there is one among you out there who can solve the mystery of the man, missing and missed.