Rose Memorial Parlour owner Matthew Boyle examines some of the 175 cremains left behind - some for as long as 69 years - by previous owners of the funeral home.

(Courtsy of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)

Matthew Boyle bought a Montrose funeral home last fall and made a ghastly discovery in the basement. The cremated remains of 175 people, babies to veterans, had been abandoned in pickle jars, trash bags, moldering boxes and expensive urns. Some had identification and death dates that went back to 1947. Some had no names or bore a question mark. Some included instructions specifying that the remains were supposed to have been scattered or buried.

In one case, remains had been switched with suspected kitty litter. 

Boyle spent more than half a year attempting to reunite these remains with next-of-kin and to identify those that had only a first name. He ultimately held a proper memorial service at a cemetery for the remains that couldn't be given to family or friends. 

Boyle spoke about the experience by phone with Colorado Matters Host Ryan Warner from his Rose Memorial Parlor in Montrose.  

On first discovering the remains: 

"Upon going down into the basement, we noticed that there was a lot of standing water. It was a dank basement that needed a lot of work at the time when we first got here. And we noticed that over in the corner, what had been the old preparation room back 40 or 50 years ago, was just more or a less a storage room with water standing from years of corrosion. 

"But we found cremated remains; some were on the ground, some were on shelves, some were in pickle jars. It was quite a disturbing site to see as funeral director that doesn't do that sort of thing. It was a discovery that we knew right away we had to make a right and doing something responsible with these cremated remains."

On who was responsible for the abandoned remains:

"The really disturbing part is that all of the previous owners, I think there was about four or five of them, had something to do with it. The incompetence was contagious. I don't know if was one of those things where the next person didn't want to disturb the previous owner's work, or if it was just complete negligence all together. But for whatever reason it accumulated to 175 (cremated remains), some of them were unidentified, many of them were identified. But the ones that were not identified, we had a service back in June and we gave them a proper scattering and a proper burial for those that were to be buried."

On why the remains were left behind:

"When people pass away, they don't always pass away with family. And this is typical in the funeral business, is that somebody would pass away and be cremated, and there's just nobody there to pick the cremated remains up.

"Unfortunately in our case, a lot of them were to be buried out at our cemetery, or they were to be scattered over the mountains. Or they had specific instructions for the cremated remains. So the ones that were to be buried in our cemetery of course, the family decided to just let us go ahead and take care of that burial. In a lot of those cases, there was already a grave marker out there, with a year and death on it and everything. So the family had been coming to these graves for years thinking that their loved one was buried there, when in fact they were in the basement here."

On how family was contacted:

"What we did when we first came public with it, was we announced the names in the newspaper. So what happened was, the families would open the newspaper that morning and see the story, this outrageous story, and then see their loved one's name in the paper. And that is when it set in.

"So when they called us, and said 'Oh I just saw my father's name in the paper, what's going on? He was supposed to have been buried.' Or he was supposed to have been scattered, or whatever the case may be. That was a tough one, to answer that question. To tell them that, no unfortunately I'm sorry that didn't happen in 1978. He's been here the whole time in the basement. After the initial shock wore off, the feeling the family had was, OK we've got to do what's right now. We have a second chance to do this."

On discovering that some remains were cat litter:

"This family unfortunately lost their 17 year old son back in 2001 I believe, and the "cremated remains" were given to the family at that time. But what had happened is that they saw his name in the paper, and they called me up and said 'Well that couldn't be because I have his cremated remains here. They're in an urn.' And what I had was most definitely his cremated remains, because they were from the crematory, they were sealed up, with his name on it, and the metal tag inside the cremated remains bag and it matched. And we certainly had what were really his cremated remains.

"So the family came into the funeral home and gave us what they had been given back then, representing his cremated remains which certainly weren't his cremated remains. They were what, in my professional opinion, would be yes, kitty litter unfortunately. Something like that."