Stolen ashes found in landfill, returned to husband

James Dailey woke up Wednesday morning and called his granddaughter sobbing.

Dailey’s home had been broken into Sunday. The thieves took jewelry, his hunting rifles and a tiny box containing the ashes of his wife of 60 years.

The family had called the authorities and also the media, but by Wednesday morning, “he was just in tears, crying, he had no hope at all,” said Renee Hunt, one of the couple’s 13 grandchildren.

He felt as if Bonnie Jeaniece Dailey, his wife who passed away in 2007, was taken from him all over again, family members said.

Hours later, Dailey was crying again – but this time, from relief.

The box had been found – with the ashes inside – and returned to him.

“He’s beside himself,” Hunt said. “He’s sitting with it in his lap, just crying, he can’t believe it.”

The oak urn had made its way to Newton County. Inmates working at the county landfill saw it as it tumbled out of a larger box. Sheriff's investigators called detectives in Jasper County, who then drove out to the landfill, according to information from the Newton County Sheriff's Office.

Jasper county authorities called the Dailey family Wednesday morning asking for photos of the box, Hunt told the AJC. She sent a photo via a text message.

A detective called again, this time saying the photos matched the box, and information inside the box matched up with the death certificate and other records, Hunt said.

Investigators could return it to Dailey in about an hour.

Hunt said the box had been busted open – her wedding band and watch were removed – and then it was dumped aside, with the ashes still in it.

"I'm ten feet tall," Dailey told the AJC Wednesday. Dailey said one corner of the box was cracked and the bottom damaged as well, but he didn't care. The ashes were inside along with a small lump of coal from Dailey's native Kentucky. The coal was something one of their sons placed in the box along with the ashes.

Dailey spent Sunday morning at a flying club in Jasper County, something he started doing more routinely when Niecey died.

He returned to his Newborn home to find the back door open. Hunting rifles were taken along with the jewelry – items Dailey had bought for his wife and some she had bought for him.

Dailey said he called the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department to give a report on what was taken and then he decided to give the bedroom another look.

A tiny box that contained his wife’s ashes was stolen, too.

“I didn’t care what was gone after that,” Dailey told the AJC Tuesday.

Dailey affectionately referred to his wife as Niecey because she hated her first name. When she died, her ashes rested in a tiny brown chest with a silver dogwood branch on it. For three-and-a-half years, they remained on the dresser next to the Dailey’s bed, protected by porcelain pink and white seraphim angels.

Dailey said whoever took the box – likely thinking there was jewelry inside – pushed the angels aside and just kept on moving.

The thieves dumped the box, jewelry, collectible coins and other items in a pillowcase, one that had been on Niecey’s pillow, which he had not changed since she died.

“It’s the times we live in now,” Dailey said.

Dailey started contacting the media Monday, hoping his public plea for his wife’s ashes will convince the criminals to return them. Jasper County is about 60 miles southeast of Atlanta.

“Take her somewhere and drop her off … call the sheriff in Jasper County or call anybody you want to call, take the guns and jewelry and go on your way,” he said.

Jim and Niecey Dailey met when he was 22 and she was 15. He said they both came from broken homes.

“We met and decided to get married, and the way she was raised and I was raised, we vowed that when we had children, we would stay together, and up until three-and-a-half years ago, we were,” Dailey said.

Niecey went to the hospital in 2007 after suffering a mild stroke. A bone biopsy revealed acute leukemia. The family was told she had six-to-eight months to live, but she died after 29 days, Dailey said.

They couple had six children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.