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Finding Miss Mary
Her cremated remains were found in a stolen Hoover car. Now, Mary Wiggins Lewis has made her way home to Piedmont.
Ashly Palmer is glad Mary made her way back home.
The cremated remains of Palmer’s mother-in-law, Mary Wiggins Lewis, had been stolen last year from a house in Piedmont, a small town in rural east Alabama.
The theft felt like losing Mary all over again, Palmer told Tread. Months before, the 43-year-old grandmother had died unexpectedly following a routine surgery in 2021. She never thought she’d see Mary’s urn again.
But this week, after being found in a stolen Hoover car, the cremains of Mary Wiggins Lewis are back where they belong.
The life and death of Mary Wiggins Lewis
Ashly Palmer remembers getting to know Mary when she began dating her son, Nathaniel, when Palmer was 17.
Mary was always laid back, Palmer said, always understanding, and almost always “a little wild.”
She remembers asking Mary for a cigarette in those early days, long before Palmer was old enough to smoke. Her future mother-in-law smirked, then handed her a single Marlboro Black. Palmer smiled as she told the story on the porch of her Piedmont home.
Mary was a funny, caring woman, Palmer said. She’d had run-ins with the law, Palmer said, and could be “a handful,” but Mary would do anything she could to help a friend in need.
“When I met her, I wasn’t doing so great,” Palmer said. “I didn’t have nowhere to live. She let me move in. She took care of me.”
Through the years, her relationship with Mary had its ups and downs, Palmer explained.
When she and Nathaniel had their children, Mason and Dixon, she and Mary had become distant, she explained. But as she began raising her children, Palmer said, she began to understand some of what Mary had gone through herself.
“I didn’t really understand a lot of things about her and how she felt until I had kids myself,” she said.
As Palmer spoke, Mason and Dixon, ages 7 and 6, kicked a soccer ball back and forth across the yard.
Nathaniel Nichols — Mary’s son, Ashly’s partner, and Mason and Dixon’s father — died by suicide on Dec. 31, 2018.
Losing him changed something in Mary, Palmer said, and put her in a dark place.
“She went crazy after her son died,” she explained. “It was hard for her.”
But the loss also drove her and Mary together.
“It was crazy that it took all the bad stuff to finally bring us together,” Palmer said.
They wouldn’t have much time.
Mary’s death in Sept. 2021 would come as a shock to the family. She died days after a routine hernia surgery, Palmer told Tread.
“After he died — and then she died — every bit of them in our life died,” Palmer said. “All of that just died.”
Losing Miss Mary
Following her service, Mary’s ashes were separated into half a dozen, custom urns, only a few inches in height, and given to those closest to her. Ashly’s urn was black and silver — glitter adorning the vessel at its top and bottom.
It was a memento that meant a lot to Ashly and to her children, she said Monday — one of the last physical connections the family had to Nathaniel’s family.
“I’ve been at a loss all this time.”
So, in 2022, Palmer was devastated when the urn went missing from her former residence in Piedmont. She’d been staying with a friend at the time, she said, and the urn had been among other belongings that disappeared.
Palmer said she never thought she’d see the urn again: “I’ve been at a loss all this time.”
Finding Miss Mary
When Amanda Pride took her dog out for a walk in Hoover early one morning two weeks ago, she noticed something was missing.
“My car wasn’t out there,” Pride said.
She tracked the car’s GPS, which said the vehicle was in Mountain Brook, but soon, the locator was disabled.
Less than a week later, she got a call from police. The car had been abandoned in the parking lot of a Vestavia apartment complex, she was told. Hoover police would process the car for fingerprints or other evidence, officials told her, and her vehicle would then be released back to her.
A couple of days later, Pride picked up the car from a tow lot, where police had dropped it off. The vehicle was in bad condition, she said. There was some damage, Pride explained, and the vehicle was filled with trash.
“And then I found that little urn,” Pride told Tread. “I didn’t know what was inside until I looked and realized it was someone’s ashes.”
Pride didn’t know what to do with the urn. Police had already processed the vehicle, and a detective at the tow lot had seemed uninterested in taking possession of any items in the car, Pride said. She consulted friends, one of whom told her to just throw the urn away.
“My friend said ‘Throw it away, it’s bad juju,’ but it’s like, somebody may be looking for it,” she said.
In the end, Pride decided to take to social media to attempt to find the urn’s owner. She posted a picture of the urn with a brief description of the circumstances that led to her finding it.
“I am sorry your loved one was desecrated like this,” Pride posted. “But I hope returning this will provide a little comfort. Please share this post to help me find the owner.”
A sign from Mary
It didn’t take long to connect the dots. A friend of Ashly Palmer saw Pride’s post and recognized the urn. She sent the photo to Palmer, who said she knew instantly it was Mary’s remains.
Palmer got in touch with Pride. Pride, in turn, placed the urn in a small box for Palmer, its glittered black and silver metal wrapped in a light blue cotton cloth and laid on a bed of purple blooms.
Mary was headed back home.
“It’s definitely her,” Palmer said as she opened the box on her porch in Piedmont Friday. She lifted the urn from among the purple flowers as Mason and Dixon looked on. “I can’t believe it.”
Palmer said finding the urn in a stolen car is no coincidence.
“It couldn’t be any more of a sign from her — ‘Hey! I’m here! It’s me,’” Palmer said. “She was always in trouble. She was a wild one. It would be that she gets found in a stolen car.”
She’s glad to have the urn back, Palmer told Tread, and she’s also glad people will get to know a little more about Mary Wiggins Lewis.
“Mary finally got her spotlight,” her daughter-in-law said. “She’d love that.”
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