John McCaslin

We've heard of the U.S. Postal Service losing packages before, but not one containing human remains — in this case, the ashes of a longtime Washington-area resident who was to have been interred with U.S. Navy military honors last Friday at the Quantico National Cemetery.

As a result, the funeral and interment for Thomas R. DeKay, 61, a former Nixon White House official who later became a Catholic priest in the Arlington Diocese and chaplain in the Navy, have been postponed until such time the Postal Service locates the cremated remains, which have been lost in the mail for 12 days.

Mourners arriving for last Friday's funeral service at the Miller Funeral Home in Woodbridge, Va., were informed by Mr. DeKay's distraught widow, Jane DeKay, that the post office simply lost the remains, which, as is customary, were sent to Virginia by an Austin, Texas, funeral home via USPS registered mail.

"Thom is lost, they can't find him," she told this columnist, a family friend.

Mr. DeKay had moved with his wife and two children to Austin following his retirement from the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. He died of cancer on March 22 and his cremation was handled by the Wilke-Clay-Fish Funeral Home, Austin's oldest family-owned funeral home .

Wilke-Clay-Fish assured this column it followed standard procedures when shipping the remains via USPS registered mail to Woodbridge on March 26. But days later, Mr. DeKay's ashes still didn't arrive.

Now, postal officials from Texas to Virginia to USPS headquarters in Washington, who were alerted to the unfortunate set of circumstances late Friday by Inside the Beltway, are scrambling to find not only the remains, but also determine how something so horrific occurred in the first place.

"We did everything as we usually do," a representative of Wilke-Clay-Fish said Friday. "We transported the ashes to the post office and sent them registered mail. I could not believe the answers we were getting from one woman at the [Austin] post office who kept saying, 'They'll be arriving the next postal day; they'll be arriving the next postal day.'

"I told her a lot of good that answer's going to do the DeKay family, which has a funeral scheduled. But she kept repeating, repeating, repeating the same answer."

According to the USPS regulations, cremated human ashes can be sent throughout the United States via registered mail with return-receipt service. The identity of the contents is to be marked on the address side, with special shipping containers provided by the crematory.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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