Cremated woman's remains found in garage -- in a Tupperware bowl

Garage cleanups can lead to strange discoveries -- but seldom ones as bizarre as what Arvada's Sam Eastman found:

Hiding behind his toolbox were the cremated remains of a woman entirely unknown to him -- Doris Dunkelberger, who died in 1984. Oh yeah: They were in a Tupperware bowl. Presumably to preserve freshness.

As 7News reported, a tag inside the container revealed that Dunkelberger had been cremated at Weaver Crematory in Beaumont, California -- an affiliate of Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary in Wheat Ridge, which currently has the remains. And while Michael Whatley, Olinger's director of sales, concedes that the use of a Tupperware bowl in this instance was "unusual," the case as a whole is not. "This is happening more and more often," he says.

"Family members take remains home," Whatley notes, "and as they get elderly, they might forget where the location of the remains is. Or they might have passed on without ever deciding what to do with them.

"We try to keep in touch with families" who've had loved ones cremated, he continues, "but after a period of time, we lose touch with them -- and they may lose touch with us. So they still have the remains with them, whether they realize it or not."

That's likely the case with Dunkelberger. The Eastman's Arvada home has turned over at least a couple of times since 1984, and no one seems quite sure how to track down her relatives. Whatley says he's made preliminary contact with the California crematory -- which, like Olinger, is part of the national Dignity Memorial network of funeral homes, etc. -- in the hope that its records can lead them to the Dunkelberger family.

After more than a quarter-century, however, that may be a long shot -- which is one reason Whatley encourages families to leave the job to people like him. Olinger offers "so many options" for interring remains at their facility, he emphasizes, including columbariums -- storage areas that can feature "a glass-front niche." And the price needn't be prohibitive, he insists: "Everybody's always concerned with costs, with the way the economy is, but we have many things that are extremely affordable.

"We wish family members would at least consider placing their loved ones with us, whether it be now or in the future. Because otherwise, what they're doing is leaving it for the next generation -- maybe someone who doesn't even know who the loved one is."

Other than that lady in the Tupperware bowl.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts