Who Was Henry?

I presume some of the readers of this blog knew Henry Baptiste, aka John the Baptiste. He was a colorful guy, well known in the Elks and Eagles organizations, and he was involved with South Kitsap Community Park. And on this Memorial Day weekend, it is worth noting that Mr. Baptiste, an Army Veteran, was also a strong supporter of local vets, whom he helped by running errands, taking them to appointments and such, according to his widow Claryce, who described him as “just an all-around good guy.”

Here’s the odd story of how his cremated remains were lost and, thanks to some caring neighbors, found.


Something about the object, cast into the bushes at the corner of Ridge Rim Lane and Lakeway Boulevard, caught Debra Lane’s eye.

Lying among the trash scattered at the roadside on a mid-April day was a large octagonal glass case, filled with foam packing peanuts. Looking inside the case, Lane and her roommate Crystal Shelton discovered a funeral urn and two boxes of ashes.

The story of how the ashes got there — and who they belong to — unfolded in faltering steps over the past weeks, with the last chapter yet to be written.

Although the remains await a final resting place, the women’s concern has brought some closure to a longtime South Kitsap family.


At first, Lane and Shelton were afraid to mess with the case, fearing it might be a homemade bomb. Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies arrived about midday on April 16, “poked at it with their nightsticks,” according to Lane, and left the case where it lay.

Later in the day the women returned. Seeing the glass had been broken, they took a closer look.

Shelton turned to Lane and said: “You need to look at this.”

The women brought the boxes and the urn home. They were told a sheriff’s report had been filed, but the coroner’s office said no information about the find had been forwarded along.

One of the boxes was labeled Gladys G. Vi Aldo and had the name of a Tacoma mortuary. The other was unlabeled. The urn bore the inscription “Maryann ‘Cricket’ Baptiste Melsness.”

Lane and Shelton looked through the Tacoma phone book searching for the names.

“By luck and the grace of God, I found the mother of Maryann,” said Lane.

The women were able to return the urn to Maryann’s sister. The sister was most appreciative, Lane said, and was able to give some clues about one of the boxes.

Maryann had drowned at age 32. Her ashes had been scattered and the urn given to her father, Henry A. Baptiste of Port Orchard. The sister did not know who Gladys was.

Lane and Shelton took the two boxes of ashes to Haven of Rest funeral home in Gig Harbor, where employees there agreed to keep them until the family could be found.

But the name “Baptiste” rang a bell. Lane and Shelton knew of the Baptiste place down the road, which had been sold in February. The new owner, DeWayne Cody, is a contractor who is remodeling the home with acreage for his family.

On a visit to the property, Lane and Shelton say they spoke with a worker who knew about the strange glass case and its contents. It had been on display in the front garden, apparently a homemade memorial of sorts.

DeWayne Cody was just a tad uncomfortable with his extra guests and had asked the worker to bring the case over to his neighbor, Virgil Armbruster. A longtime friend of Henry Baptiste, Virgil had agreed to have the ashes moved to a suitable resting place.

Virgil, whose wife has been ill, was unable to move the ashes right away. While out running errands one day, they disappeared from his doorway.

Who moved the ashes — and dumped them unceremoniously by the roadside — is still a mystery. But thanks to some persistent sleuthing on the part of Lane and Shelton, the ashes are now back with Claryce Baptiste, Henry’s wife and Gladys’ daughter.


Henry Andre Baptiste, or “John the Baptiste,” was a well-known if slightly eccentric figure in South Kitsap.

Henry was a veteran of the Army, where he came by his odd nickname due to his role as a veteran’s advocate, helping local vets with chores and other needs.

“He was just an all-around good guy,” said Claryce, who now lives in an assisted living facility in Port Orchard.

Henry was heavily involved with South Kitsap Community Park in its early years. Virgil remembers when some of the land was being cleared, he and Henry (whom Virgil called “John”) stayed at the park nights to tend the stump fires.

Virgil first met Henry in 1977, when he bought the property next door. The two were good buddies from the get-go.

“We did just about everything together,” said Virgil. “He had a truck and I had a truck. … We got along good together.”

Their enterprises included a boat repair business and a washing machine business, in which they refurbished machines. They once restored a car together, and they raised pigs, rabbits and goats.

Together, they built Virgil’s garage. Together, they built Henry’s garage. Together, they built Henry’s house, using cast-off materials from the old Naval Hospital.

“He could get more comeshaw work done than anybody,” Virgil said.

That’s “comeshaw,” slightly dated military speak for salvaged materials, stuff you can get for free and you just never know when and where you might be able to use it.

Henry’s architectural style was unorthodox to say the least. He and Virgil built his house around the mobile home that was on his place. Then they removed the mobile home. And they used more than their fair share of nails. Current owner Cody laughs, with only a hint of exasperation, when talking about the nails.

The house was decorated with Claryce’s art, rustic paintings on slabs of timber and drawings of intricate psychedelic swirls. She also made jewelry out of polished rocks.

Claryce’s mother, Gladys, lived with the Baptistes for a time. After she died, Claryce put her ashes in the garden. After Henry died in 1993, in his early 60s, she made the glass display case for the ashes and Maryann’s urn, “so they’d all be in there together.” A plaque she made with their names has since disappeared.

After Claryce had the stroke and had to sell the house, Virgil agreed to take care of the memorial display. Claryce’s family, who live in Oregon, had asked him to find a suitable resting spot. A friend with acreage in Poulsbo and a bulldozer had said he would help, Virgil said, but then the friend got sick, and his wife got sick, and things got “hectic.”

One day, he went to visit his wife, and when he came back, the bulky glass display and heavy cement base were gone.


Washington State law is lax where “cremains” are concerned, said Daniel Kain of Haven of Rest, who took temporary custody of the ashes when Lane and Shelton approached him, not knowing what to do. Whoever threw the ashes by the side of the road was guilty, in the eyes of the law, of nothing more than vandalism, said Kain.

Henry and Gladys’ ashes remain safely in the custody of Haven of Rest until Claryce’s family can make arrangements for them, Kain said.

The family is deeply grateful to Lane and Shelton for their help in solving the mystery of the ashes at the roadside, said Janice Worden, director of the assisted living home.

For Claryce, the the whole episode has stirred up bittersweet memories.

“All I know right now is I loved him dearly, and I always will,” she said. “And he’s with us every minute of every day.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Before you post, please complete the prompt below.

Please enter the word MILK here: