Anaheim PD employee plays detective, reunites cremated remains to Arizona family


As a senior property and evidence technician for the Anaheim PD, Nicole Rapp’s job is to process and control the movement of evidence or personal property collected at crime scenes and from arrestees.

In her nearly 12 years with the APD, Rapp pretty much has seen it all. Currently, the APD has more than 200,000 pieces of evidence stored away.

But recently, for the fourth time in her career, Rapp has been able to play detective — successfully — after an unusual type of property ended up at the front desk of the Anaheim PD:

Cremated human remains.

“When (ashes) end up here,” Rapp said, “that’s my thing.”

It’s not that Rapp has a morbid streak.

Rather, she feels compelled to make sure the ashes end up in the possession of loved ones. Otherwise, if they remain unclaimed, the APD destroys them.

Rapp’s latest encounter with cremated human remains happened Friday, Aug. 12, when an Anaheim woman walked up to the front desk holding a wooden box with a sealed top.

Inside were the ashes of a 53-year-old man who died unexpectedly nearly 12 years ago.

The woman told the cadet at the front desk of the APD that the wooden box was among items of used goods she purchased from a thrift store in Santa Ana to resell at the Orange County Marketplace in Costa Mesa.

How the wooden box got mixed up with other items from the thrift store is unclear.

Fortunately, there was paperwork inside the box that listed the man’s name, date of birth and death, the name and address of a sister in Arizona, along with his printed wishes to have his remains scattered at sea.

Nicole Rapp, senior property & evidence technician for the Anaheim PD, who reunited ashes of a someone who was cremated with relatives in Arizona. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Nicole Rapp: “I had a ‘perma-grin’ for days.”
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Two cremation services — one in Perris, the other in San Diego — also were listed on the paperwork.

The APD contacted them, but the cremation services said too much time had lapsed and they no longer had information on the deceased or contact info for his relatives.

Rapp called police in Arizona and gave them the address of the deceased’s sister; no phone number was listed.

A lot can happen in 12 years.

No one answered the door at the sister’s address in Arizona when an officer stopped by.

The officer then went on his computer and searched for a phone number based on the sister’s name and address.

He got one.

He called Rapp and gave her the number, and she called it.

A man answered.

Bingo — it was the husband of the deceased’s sister.

She was at work, but within an hour she called Rapp back.

“I called her as soon as I got home and was struck by her personal manner,” said the sister, who asked that her name not be used for privacy. “I could tell she was very happy to have found (my brother’s) family.”

Rapp made arrangements to ship the ashes to the sister. She received them Wednesday, Aug. 17.

The sister contacted Rapp to thank her. She explained that when her brother died on Aug. 31, 2004, he was living in San Diego.

A cousin who lived in Bellflower ended up with his belongings, including his ashes.

The sister told Rapp that over the years, she had tried numerous times to contact the cousin, but she never heard from her. She speculates that someone in the cousin’s family unknowingly included her brother’s ashes in a thrift store donation.

The sister said she’s grateful for Rapp’s hard work in getting her brother’s ashes home.

“Nicole and the department deserves to be complimented for her care and compassion to me and to my brother,” said the sister.

“I am so impressed by her professional and personal handling of this situation,” she said.

The sister plans to come to San Diego to scatter her brother’s ashes at sea.

Rapp said she’s thrilled with the outcome — just as she was with the other three out-of-state misplaced ashes cases she’s solved.

“I had a ‘perma-grin’ for days,” Rapp said.