- Associated Press - Saturday, May 6, 2017

HOUMA, La. (AP) - A local junk collector’s two-month quest to find a proper home for cremated human ashes he found in a garbage can in late February came to an end recently when a friend helped reunite the remains with a relative living in Delaware.

Houma resident Larry Lilliman was looking for anything of value that he could repair or reuse on Mardi Gras night when he discovered a wooden casket containing the ashes of a man he never met inside a trash can in the 5700 block of West Main Street in Houma.

“I was going through the stuff someone put by the side of the road and saw something that caught my eye,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was because it was so dark. So I put it into a bag and took it home. When I started checking out the stuff I picked up in the light, I saw what it was. I shook it and then I really realized what it was.”

The only clues Lilliman had in solving the mystery was the name “Ralph A. Kline” and the dates “1953-2003” inscribed on the top of the casket.

In the weeks that followed, Lilliman searched long and hard for any friends or relatives of Kline, but his attempts to find a new resting place for the casket came up short. He then turned to The Courier and Daily Comet for help.

It took just a few hours after The Courier and Daily Comet published an article about Lilliman’s unusual find to finally solve the puzzle.

Lilliman said he received numerous calls and information about Kline, but it was a friend who was able to track down Kline’s mother in Delaware to put an end to his quest.

“A friend of mine saw the article a couple of hours after it was published and found Ralph’s death records at the Social Security Office, which also listed the name of his mother,” Lilliman said today. “He got in touch with her and confirmed it was her son’s ashes. He then came by and picked up the ashes and Federal Expressed them to her in Delaware. She was hurt to hear her son’s ashes ended up in the garbage.”

Kline’s mother, 85-year-old Ellen Stubbs of Frederica, Del., said she was horrified to learn that her son’s remains had been lingering in a trash can and was relieved to give them a more respectful resting place.

“I don’t know what I would have done if I ever found out that happened and they never were able to find me,” Stubbs said. “That probably would have been the end of me. Just the thought of my son’s ashes being in the trash can was horrendous to me. I don’t know how I’m ever going to thank those two men for what they did. To have something like this happen to me is a miracle.”

Stubbs said her son had been stationed in Louisiana while serving in the U.S. Army.

“He was stationed in Louisiana for a while and liked it so much that he decided to stay there after leaving the Army,” she said. “He’d come to visit me, but always wanted to go back to Louisiana. My son was a wonderful person. He would call me every Sunday after he moved to Louisiana, and when my husband died he came here to be with me. It wasn’t long after that he died, and 15 months later my other son died.”

Stubbs said she’s not certain how her son’s remains ended up in a trash can but is relieved to be reunited with them.

“Thank God it ended this way,” she said.

Lilliman’s friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, said as a military veteran himself it pained him to see the remains of a fellow soldier treated in such an irreverent fashion.

“I want no notoriety in reference to this matter,” he said. “I will never allow a fellow veteran’s remains to be discarded as garbage.”

According to Kline’s obituary, he was a veteran of the Vietnam War and died in Morgan City on Sept. 7, 2003, at age 49.

Lilliman said he was glad his search for Kline’s family was over and was relieved to go back to hunting for more practical items like vacuum cleaners or stereos.

“I’m doing a lot better now that Ralph is on his way home,” he said.

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