Stolen memories

Father's cremated remains destroyed when stolen truck was scrapped
Nov. 03, 2013 @ 08:12 AM

First Libby Jones lost her father, Benny Lee Perkins, on Nov. 21, 2007, after a brief illness.

But she had his cremated remains, and she had an old pickup truck Perkins spent hours restoring. This was no ordinary truck, but a 1973 Ford F150 Ranger with a 400-cc large block V-8 engine. The truck belonged to her husband, Richard, but Perkins was a mechanic and spent countless hours helping rebuild the truck so it could one day find its way to area drag strips. By the time Perkins died, all it lacked was a fresh coat of paint.

Three weeks later, she lost her family's house -- a kerosene heater started a fire that destroyed the house, an adjoining apartment, a trailer and burned out three cars in the garage. Clothes, a baby crib and a Christmas tree with presents were lost in the blaze.

From the charred remains of the house at Ollis Place, off Playmore Beach Road in western Caldwell County, Jones was able to salvage some wet photographs and a small box holding Perkins' cremated remains.

When Perkins fell ill, he had told Jones to add one more thing to the truck: the box holding his ashes.

"Just leave me out there in that truck, I'll be fine," Jones said he told her. "He said he'll take care of it."

So Perkins honored his wish and placed the box behind the seat. Although still bearing the unmistakable smell of a house fire, the box was all she had of her father to hold on to. She and her husband moved into a single-wide trailer 100 feet away from where their house once stood, the old truck comfortably nearby.

"I could go out to that truck any time I wanted to and visit with my father," she said.

On Oct. 23, Jones discovered the truck was missing. She called the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office, who called area scrapyards. It was found at Dale's Recycling in Hudson, but it had was scrapped the same day Jones reported it stolen. Along with the ashes.

"Now they've taken him away from me forever," Jones said.

Investigators were able to get several items out of the old Ford, such as some old photos and personal items, after the roof of the truck was pried back. But by now the truck was about a fourth of its original size, and anything resembling the box containing Perkins' remains was not found.

Warrants have been issued for two men suspected of stealing the truck: James Howard Coffey, 58, of 818 Abington Road and Tony Herman Hudson, 50 of 2907 Playmore Beach Road. They will be charged with larceny of a motor vehicle, possession of stolen property, and obtaining property by false pretense.

Meanwhile, Jones' husband is in Valdese Hospital after undergoing surgery Tuesday to remove an obstruction in his bowel. A large portion of his intestines were removed, and he was in critical condition Saturday. Jones wants to be able to tell him that the men who stole her truck were brought to justice.

"I feel empty," she said. "I feel like I let my husband down. He lost everything in the house fire, and now this."