FAIRBANKS, Alaska – A Fairbanks couple is appealing for the return of the ashes of their dead daughter, stolen in a burglary last month.
Fredi and H. Leo Brown said the remains of their daughter, Carole, were taken along with guns and jewelry the weekend of June 23.
"If we could just get the ashes returned, that would be the one thing," said H. Leo Brown, 79, a retired Teamster. "I wouldn't care about the rest."
Carole Brown died in 1997 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis and was cremated.
Her parents stored their daughter's remains in a box inside a red-velvet bag tied with a gold cord. They placed the box on the top shelf of the closet in their bedroom.
The Browns didn't want to place Carole's ashes prominently because of the pain of her loss. They thought they would eventually scatter Carole's ashes, maybe at their cabin at Quartz Lake near Delta Junction. But after a while, the couple found they liked having Carole around.
"I could talk to her," said Fredi Brown, 74, a retired school secretary.
The burglary took place while the Browns were at their cabin fixing a dock and cutting brush.
The burglar broke in using the front door of the Browns' log house on a slough. The Browns didn't notice immediately because they use a door from the garage to enter their house.
The Browns called troopers and began cataloging their loss, including a .44 Magnum, a 12-gauge Beretta and H. Leo Browns's first shotgun, which he bought for $7, a week's pay 65 years ago, he said.
Fredi Brown lost gold jewelry, collected over decades, including charm bracelets her husband had bought for her piece-by-piece over 40 years.
The Browns were upset, but nothing would prepare them for loss they would discover a day or two later.
The second of the Browns' three girls, Carole was born in Anchorage on Nov. 19, 1956. Considered the adventurous daughter, she was the first to drive a snowmobile by herself and the first to fly her father's Cessna 180.
"She was the top sandwich builder in the family," said H. Leo Brown.
Carole loved children and eventually married and had a daughter, whom she named Valerie.
Carole was also known for her affection for animals. H. Leo Brown said his daughter removed the screen from one of the windows in her house and somehow trained wild birds to come in and land on her arm.
"I was totally astonished," Brown said. "I'll never forget it."
Carole worked at Alaska Tent and Tarp until her illness got the best of her, her parents said. Carole's MS was complicated by heart problems that led to triple bypass surgery.
"Sometimes her MS would improve to some degree, but it never left her," Fredi Brown said.
Carole was a month shy of her 41st birthday when she died in Fairbanks at the home of a friend.
When H. Leo Brown went to bed a night or two after discovering the burglary, he gazed up at the closet. The red velvet bag with Carole's ashes was missing.
The couple scoured their house for almost two hours before it sunk in that the burglars took the bag.
"We were incredulous," said H. Leo Brown. "It's hard to accept a violation of this kind."
"I was devastated," his wife said.
The couple combed their property, hoping the burglar figured out what the bag held and left it behind.
Fredi called her daughter, Gari Bystedt, who called several friends asking them to look along the sides of roads. Bystedt also thought of making signs to hang at trash-dumping sites. She'd heard a story of an urn that had been thrown out, but found in the trash and returned to the deceased person's family.
Bystedt hopes the burglar thought to place Carole's ashes somewhere where someone would see them.
"It's just bizarre to me that this would happen," she said. "Maybe if the burglars realize they had somebody's ashes, they would at least be kind enough to think of putting them where somebody can find them."
Alaska State Troopers are investigating the crime and the family is asking for the public's help in recovering the ashes. The red velvet bag is about the size of a bowling ball.