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Woman's remains set adrift in bay


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- A member of Pass-a-Grille Yacht club offered an urn. A funeral home liaison would provide a crypt.

But Wil D'Arcy, the construction worker who recently found Josephine Pedersen's cremated remains, could not wait. Her ashes sat lost or unclaimed long enough -- 14 years.

On Sunday, D'Arcy sailed out in Tampa Bay near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and said goodbye.

"I sat in the bow and quietly allowed Josephine's remains to drift out of the plastic bag and into the bay," said D'Arcy, 62.

D'Arcy found Pedersen's remains in a suitcase while removing duct work at the former Wilhelm-Thurston Funeral Home, 145 Eighth St. N. D'Arcy is overseeing renovations of the 75-year-old building, which will become offices and fancy apartments.

The funeral home closed in the early 1990s and has sat vacant at least five years.

Not much is known of Pedersen, though a few leads have emerged on how she ended up in Florida from Brooklyn, N.Y. She died there July 17, 1986, at age 95.

It is possible her remains were sent to Florida for a relative to collect. But Pedersen had no known survivors.

The public administrator of Brooklyn signed the authorization for her cremation, said Paul Giffone, who runs the Brooklyn funeral home.

So why did Pedersen end up here?

Richard A. Santore, the man who owned the Brooklyn funeral home that handled Pedersen's cremation, moved to Pinellas County in 1987.

He became business partners with Richard J. DeChant, the director of St. Petersburg's Wilhelm-Thurston Funeral Home.

Did Santore accidentally pack remains among his belongings?

"No, I brought no cremains with me," said Santore, now a Tennessee resident and director of Associated Funeral Directors International Inc.

Santore was baffled.

"I have no explanation. I wish I had an explanation," he said.

DeChant took over Wilhelm-Thurston Funeral Home in 1987 and made news in 1990 when he misplaced the ashes of a 91-year-old woman for more than four months.

D'Arcy is grateful for the generosity of Patricia Rhamstine, the yacht club member who offered to muster friends to get an urn; and the Rev. Tom Hastings, a liaison for Curlew Hills Funeral Home who worked to get Pedersen space in a crypt at Curlew Hills in Palm Harbor.

"It just bothered me all weekend," said Rhamstine. "In fact, the article is still sitting on the coffee table."

When told of D'Arcy taking matters into his own hands, Hastings replied, "Well, bless his heart. His heart was so into that."

D'Arcy wiped tears from his cheeks Tuesday morning as he described spreading Pedersen's ash and bone at sunset.

"It was very, very, very, very beautiful."

- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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