Thames River mystery reunites husband with wife's ashes

An 82-year-old London man was reunited with the ashes of his wife of 54 years after two fishermen found her remains on the muddy banks of the Thames River.

Two fishermen discovered a bag of human remains on the riverbank in London's Springbank Park

A bag of cremated human remains lies on the muddy banks of the Thames River in London, Ont., the two fishermen who found it have no idea how it got there, or who it might contain. (Paul Meyer)

"It's one of the strangest finds and I don't think I'll ever find another one like this one." 

For Paul Meyer, finding human remains in the Thames River was astonishing, especially given what he and his friend were talking about. 

"We were reminiscing about all the junk and odd finds we've had," Meyer said, noting that while fishing he's found everything from car and bike parts to used needles, even an unopened safe in the Thames. 

Paul Meyer tells the story of when he found a bag of human remains while fishing on the Thames River 0:59

"I mentioned to my friend that I still haven't found a body yet," he said. "We turned around and there on the side of the bank was this bag."

Once they got closer, the two men realized the bag contained the cremated remains of a human being. 

The two fishermen who found this bag realized it was human remains once they saw the metal tag attached to the zip tie that kept it sealed. (Paul Meyer)

Police not interested

"We were wondering at the time what we should do with it," Meyer said. "We were discussing whether we should slit the bag and do it properly, let the ashes go."

Instead, the two fishermen decided to investigate in order to find the rightful owner of the unopened bag of ashes. 

"My buddy called the police and they said they weren't interested," he said. "There were no bones. There was no crime." 

Undeterred, Meyer and his friend contacted CBC News and left the remains in the public broadcaster's care in the hopes it could solve the mystery and reunite them with the next of kin. 

CBC pursues mystery

A staff member at Holy Cross Crematorium in Paris, Ont., confirmed that the remains had in fact been cremated at their facility and that they had been delivered to Needham Funeral Home in London, Ont.. 

This bag of cremated human remains was found by two fishermen, who gave it to the CBC after police said they would not get involved, since no crime occurred. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

A staff member at Needham Funeral Home told CBC News they also could not identify the remains inside the bag, citing Ontario's privacy laws, but they could give the next of kin contact information for the CBC. 

Within 24 hours, the next of kin reached out to CBC and wanted to meet.

'She was beautiful'

The man on the other end of the phone said he was 82-year-old Roland Ilhe, a German immigrant who worked as a plumber.

The ashes in the bag were that of his wife, Dagmara Ilhe, he said. 

Roldand Ilhe, 82, lost his wife of 54 years, Dagmara Ilhe, earlier this year. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

He met her in 1956 at the German Canadian Club in the Coves, a neighbourhood southwest of the city core. 

"A friend of mine brought her with him as a blind date because I couldn't speak English. I spoke only German," he said. "She was beautiful."

Ilhe said the couple fell in love and got married in 1963, but never had any children.

"We had a good life. I made good money. She made good money. We travelled a lot," he said, noting Dagmara passed away earlier this year at the age of 87. 

Scatter somewhere beautiful

Dagmara had made arrangements to be cremated at London's Needham Funeral Home and she had instructed her husband to scatter her ashes in the Thames River, Port Stanley or anywhere her husband thought was beautiful. 

Ilhe said he wanted to take his wife's ashes to Kelowna, BC, a place where the couple lived for four years, but a recent heart attack meant he couldn't make the cross-country flight. 

So he decided the next best thing was to scatter his wife's ashes in the Thames. 

"My health is failing," he said, noting he never opened the bag in a moment of confusion. "I knew you had to open the bag to get the ashes out, but I, myself, was confused and I just dumped the ashes." 

"It's a sad story, but it's true."

Ilhe said he'll try to scatter his wife's ashes again, but this time he'll mail them to BC where a friend can scatter them in a natural area somewhere on the rim of the community. 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: