Patrons have left their jewelry at the Ocean Beach Suds Car Wash in San Diego, Calif. before, and someone once left an artificial limb behind. But never before has someone left a box of ashes, and even stranger, never returned for them.
A gold metallic box with a faded sticker was left at the self-service car wash, but thanks to a local business nonprofit, the remains inside have brought new life to the story of Henry Lefebvre, who passed away over 17 years ago at the age of 94.
The investigation into the life of Lefebvre began after the car wash owner brought the box to the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association nearly three weeks ago, said Liz Greene, who works with the nonprofit association.
The owner, who happens to be Greene's father, found the box next to one of the vacuums at the five-stall car wash, and was sure someone would come back to pick them up, Greene said. He contacted authorities with respect to the remains, she said, but no one ever retrieved them.
The sticker on the box read, "Secure Crematorium. This contains the remains of Henry Efebvre. Cremated on May 5, 1995."
"He passed them off to us, hoping we could figure it out," said Greene. "So we posted it on our Facebook page. Since then, the story's taken off like wild fire."
The post went up on Oct. 22 and read, "Ok...so this is a first. A local business owner turned in a box of cremated human remains today. He said a customer was cleaning out their car six months ago and never came back looking for them. Is this a Halloween prank?" Greene said the Facebook post triggered calls from genealogists from Northern California, local news outlets and even some of Lefebvre's family members, who contacted the nonprofit hoping to help uncover the mystery of the remains and the deceased's identity.
"Once we realized someone had been hanging onto him for so long, we knew there had to be more to the story," said Ocean Beach MainStreet Association executive director Denny Knox. "You can only hope that whoever was the last holder of him loved him so much, and that's why they had him for so long."
Knox said that with the help of genealogists, the nonprofit has learned that the deceased's last name was actually Lefebvre, and the "L" on the box had faded away.
Henry Lefebvre was born on Oct. 30, 1900. He came from a big family; he had four brothers and three sisters. His remaining family members had no idea he hadn't been properly buried, she said.
"They were under the impression that his ashes had been dedicated in a gravesite next to one of his wives," she said.
Turns out, Henry Lefebvre was also a star running back at USC in the 1920s, according to ABC affiliate KGTV. Lefebvre's family members told KGTV that through football, he became friends with the actor John Wayne, who was his teammate.
Lefebvre was also the owner of the Sun-Aired Bag Company, a bag checking system used by pools, gymnasiums and motion picture companies for clothing storage, and he became very wealthy, Knox said.
Knox said she was able to get in touch with Lefebvre's nephew, Gary Lefebvre, who spoke highly of his uncle.
"Gary told me that, as far as his family goes, his mom didn't have much money at the time when the kids were growing up," Knox said. "But he remembers Uncle Henry showing up with a car full of food quite often."
Knox said Lefebvre was married a few times but never had any children. He outlived all of his siblings, except one brother, who passed away a few weeks after he did.
Knox said the nonprofit has been taking good care of Lefebvre's remains, and that his nephew is expected to pick him up on Nov. 12.
But the mystery remains as to who left the ashes at the car wash, or why they had them in the first place.