The cardboard box had been buried in a makeshift grave underneath a tree by someone who obviously cared: Fresh flowers, a small cross, a stuffed animal and a statue of a kneeling cherub marked the grave. It was not far from a county cemetery for those few cared about.
Inside the box, there was a velvet bag tied with a drawstring, containing a plastic bag of cremated remains labeled with a female name.
Authorities from the Camden County Prosecutor's Office believe the ashes found at the county's Lakeland complex in Gloucester Township belonged to a child, possibly an infant. Authorities exhumed the remains after people walking near the county's potter's field discovered them April 20.
It's an illegal grave site. Officials want to help find a proper burial site and the girl's family.
But there's more than one mystery.
Investigators have not been able to find a death certificate bearing the name of the person on the ashes, or identified a crematorium that handled a cremation for anyone with the name, the prosecutor's office said. Authorities are not releasing the name, hoping the family or the person who tended the grave would come forward.
The remains were properly cremated and handled, and the death doesn't appear to be suspicious, authorities said.
Death certificates are needed in order for a cremation to be performed, said Rob Earle, director of the Earle Funeral Home, located not far from the complex. Cremations cost between $2,500 and $4,000, and even more if a service is included, he said.
More people nationwide are cremating loved ones because it's cheaper than traditional burials, which can cost between $8,000 and $15,000, Earle said.
But not enough cemeteries offer affordable ways to bury the ashes, sometimes charging families for a full plot for the burial, Earle said.
So some people choose a different route.
"I've seen many people dispose of their cremated remains in places such as commercial cemeteries on their own after hours in order to avoid paying the cemetery fees," Earle said.
Cremated remains in New Jersey and other states may be scattered on private property with the permission of the owner. Ashes can be scattered on public property with the approval of the state, county or local agency in charge, according to the New Jersey State Funeral Directors. National and state parks have permit requirements and location restrictions.
Federal law requires that ashes be scattered at sea be at least three miles off shore.
Earle remembered cremated remains of one man being scattered on the sidewalk of different bars where he was regular in Philadelphia.
Authorities request that those with information contact Paul Audino, an investigator with the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, at 856-225-8449.
Contact Darran Simon at 856-779-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @darransimon.