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Stolen urn with boy's ashes found on lawn

Published January 11, 2007

An urn with Zachary Greene's ashes and a locket with his thumbprint were found near his parents' driveway Wednesday.
[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]

NEW PORT RICHEY - The ashes of Zachary Greene look like wet sand mixed with seashells. They filled an egg-shaped urn inside a box of dark velvet above the fireplace in his parents' house. The box could hold jewelry. Perhaps it fooled the thief.

Someone broke in on Monday and stole nearly $10,000 worth of goods, including the velvet box. Zachary's parents forsook their guitars and electronics. In Wednesday's newspapers, they asked the thief to return the urn.

"Just drop it off with a note on it," the father said. "And that'll be that."

They got their wish within hours.

But the apparent act of contrition may have brought the thief closer to conviction.

Eve and Steven Greene got up Wednesday morning after a restless night. Sleep has been elusive since April 2005, when Zachary was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He was their only child. He died that November, a few months before his fifth birthday.

They kept his ashes in two containers: one to keep and one to scatter. The second box was still on the mantel.

News of the burglary made New Port Richey police Cpl. Howard Snyder feel sick. He drove to Van Buren Street about 10 a.m. Wednesday to continue the investigation.

After he and Steven Greene looked at the back yard, through which the thief probably escaped, they returned to the front. They were walking down the driveway when Greene glanced down and saw glittering gold.

It was one of the items stolen in the burglary: an amulet pressed with Zachary's thumbprint.

They stared.

Then, in the grass to the right, they spotted the velvet box. A few feet beyond that lay the egg-shaped urn.

Greene reached out to gather the items. Snyder stopped him.

"Don't touch anything," he said.

Snyder wanted to take the items to the station to examine them for prints and other evidence. But it was Greene's decision, and Greene said go ahead. He wanted to press charges.

"I don't like criminals," he said. "It's as simple as that."

Police figure the items reappeared while Snyder and Greene were in the back yard. The thief likely tossed them from a moving vehicle even though a marked police car was in plain view.

In other words, he may have risked capture to make reparations. Not that this endeared him to the police.

"No," Snyder said. "No. We don't feel sorry for him at all."

Technicians finished processing the items by midafternoon. Snyder would not say what evidence - if any - they yielded. At last check Wednesday, the case was still open.

Greene was at home about 2 p.m. when the police brought him his property in a brown paper bag. He unscrewed the cap on the urn. It was silver-colored, shorter than a saltshaker. Inside were the ashes.

"Man," he said, thinking of the thief or thieves. "These guys must be out of their minds."

Then he picked up the urn and stuffed it in his pocket.

Thomas Lake can be reached at or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.

[Last modified January 11, 2007, 05:34:02]

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