Melvin Hayes, 78, was aghast that strangers brazenly stole his vehicle from an Elk Grove carwash. But it wasn’t the car the Sacramento man was grief-stricken about.
The 2011 Ford Fusion that thieves made off with from the Premier Car Wash contained an urn with the remains of his wife of 48 years, Anamarie Hayes.
He had met her in Germany while working in U.S. Army Intelligence after World War II. She died Nov. 22 at 79. And he was on his way to have a priest bless her ashes before her remains were to be buried at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon.
“I was more concerned about where my wife’s ashes were than with my car,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that I gave my wife a proper burial. I was concerned that the ashes would be dumped some place, and that was extremely upsetting to me.”
At 2 a.m. Saturday, Hayes got a call from the Port of Stockton police, telling him that his car had been found and two suspects had been arrested. Six hours later, the California Highway Patrol delivered the only news Hayes truly cared about: the urn was found in the trunk, along with clothes and other items that the thieves had thrown in there.
“I don’t know why they kept them, but I’m glad that I got the ashes back, ” he said.
Authorities say Danielle Dorsey, 34, and Antwanne Batten, 35, were being held at the San Joaquin County jail Sunday on felony charges of vehicle theft and a misdemeanor count of attempting to receive stolen property. Dorsey was also charged with additional felonies of attempting to receive stolen property and bringing alcohol or drugs into a prison. Her bond was set at $40,000 while Batten’s was set at $120,000.
Hayes and his son, Elmer, drove to the impound lot later Saturday morning and retrieved both the car and urn. Their recovery of the remains ended a three-day ordeal.
On Thursday, Hayes had picked up the urn containing his wife’s ashes from a crematorium in Sacramento. He placed it on the floorboards behind his seat and was on his way to pick up a retired priest, Brandan McKeefry, to bless his wife’s ashes. The two were then planning to drive to the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery.
Shortly before noon, Hayes stopped at the Premier Car Wash, 8130 Orchard Loop Drive, to have his cherry-red Ford Fusion washed.
He said he was in the waiting room when a woman approached him.
“She hugged me and made out like we were best friends,” Hayes recalled. “I didn’t pay any attention to her, and I started to read my book.”
But then the woman sat down at the table and asked him what he was reading. “She told me she liked to have a soda pop and I gave her the change,” Hayes said.
The woman came back from the vending machine, sipping a soda, which prompted Hayes to go get a soda for himself.
He then went to check with a carwash attendant to see if his car was done, as he had to leave by 12:15 p.m.
“The attendant said, ‘It’s done and your girlfriend drove it away,’ ” Hayes said. “Some girlfriend – she was a complete stranger.”
Hayes said he was told that the car wash had followed procedure in releasing the vehicle and that the woman had allegedly presented the attendant with a receipt before taking off with his car.
But Hayes said the attendant was unable to produce it for a simple reason: “I still have the receipt,” he said.
Hayes said he was shocked that his car had been stolen in this way. He contacted police and hoped for the best.
“You never expect anyone to steal your car, and you never expect that they take your wife’s ashes while you are waiting at a carwash,” he said. “It would have to be some oddball screenwriters to come up with that scenario.”
What makes the story even stranger is how the two suspects were caught, which was about 8 p.m. last Friday, according to Port of Stockton police.
“They took the Fresno Street exit off of I-5 and thought they were going to Fresno,” said George Lerner, Port of Stockton police chief. “They drove to our gate and they were stopped by our security. The license plate came back stolen, and they were placed under arrest.”
Lerner said he recalled seeing the story on the TV news about the theft.
“I think it’s wonderful that we were able to participate in recovering the lady’s remains for the gentleman,” he said. “These stories don’t always have a happy ending, and this one did.”
Hayes hopes the friendly woman in the waiting room, who apparently was out to steal his car with an accomplice, pays for what she did.
“I am pressing charges but more than anything, I long to see her locked up (for a long time) for all the grief she caused me,” he said. “It was a very, very rough time for me.”
He is now in the process of making new arrangements to bury his wife’s ashes.