Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Man retrieves urn of wife's remains found along I-75

LAND O'LAKES — High on its pilings, the wooden A-frame house looked like a ship's hull jutting over the fence at Paradise Lakes nudist resort.

Zebra skin, dark wood and mirrors covered the inside walls. On a white tiger rug, a 40-something woman with brown hair leaned back on her elbows, nude.

Beside her, Ronald Scharff occupied a multicolored Lay-Z-Boy. His shoulder-length silver hair was combed straight back, his skin 70 years of tan. Even with the distractions — the woman on the rug, the half-empty bottle of Calypso rum on the bar — he still dwelled Wednesday afternoon on his first love: The sweet girl he met 50 years ago in Long Island, who was taken from him by cancer after 41 years of marriage. And who made her way back into his life after her urn was found on the side of the interstate.


• • •

From his seat in the trackhoe on the shoulder of I-75 near Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, Eddie Frazier saw something down in the dirt that didn't look right. He pulled the dark, tarnished brass out of the brush. An urn.

Inside was a bag of ashes with a label: Janice Lee Scharff.

Frazier gave the urn to a Pasco sheriff's deputy, who entered the woman's name into a database. Ronald Scharff's name came up.

The phone call Saturday afternoon brought Scharff to tears. He explained what happened:

After Janice's death in 2007, he was dating Denise Barry, then 41. They were going to move to Bradenton. They loaded their belongings — including Scharff's dog, Babe, and the urn — into his 1999 GMC pickup truck.

Scharff was driving south on I-75. Another driver cut him off. He swerved, overcorrected and flipped at 70 mph.

Scharff made it out with no injuries. Babe was ejected and somehow landed safely beside the road. Their belongings were strewn hundreds of feet down the side of the highway. "I found spoons. I found everything. I couldn't find her," he said.

Scharff spent hours scanning the brush. He went back at least four times, then gave up. Until the deputy called.

Scharff had arranged to come to the property and evidence office beside the Pasco jail in Land O'Lakes at 2:30 Monday afternoon. TV news trucks huddled at the entrance. Scharff never showed.

He said he was given the wrong directions.

• • •

He spent the first half of this week thinking about Janice.

They met in 1962 in Long Island. She was 16. He was 19. He was going to pick up his girlfriend, Dorothy, to see Days of Wine and Roses at the drive-in. Dorothy said she had to babysit her siblings with her friend Janice, a girl with blond hair and porcelain skin. He took Janice instead.

They married in 1965 at Our Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Long Island and had a son a year later.

Scharff worked at PanAm airlines as an engineering officer. He brought Janice all over the world. In one of the magazines a passenger left behind, Scharff saw an ad for Sunshine Park Nudist Resort. He took her.

Maybe it was the nice people, the pool or the free feeling he got, he said. "We enjoyed it."

They bought a house in Anguanga, Calif. He owned the Diamond Bar in Los Angeles and the Jack Pot Motel in Las Vegas. Scharff wouldn't say how he made his money.

They decided they liked Florida, too, and bought a house in Sarasota, then another in Bradenton and the one in Paradise Lakes.

He relied on Janice to stand by him, "being my mate. Being my love. Taking care of bills."

Janice was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004. She started chemotherapy.

In 2005, the monitor beside her bed at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa flatlined three times. Doctors resuscitated her.

"Why didn't you let me go?" she asked her husband.

"Because you're my bride," he said.

She held on until the cancer spread to her stomach lining. She died Jan. 27, 2007.

Scharff could hardly function without her.

"I was lost," Scharff said. "I wouldn't even make out a check."

He dated Denise Barry for two years. She said drinking was part of their lifestyle.

"I think that [Janice] may have been the rock that he relied on," she said.

They split up, and she later became Denise Lewis. Scharff took another woman. The one sitting on his floor Wednesday afternoon when he decided to go get Janice.

• • •

Scharff put on his clothes and drove up U.S. 41 to the property and evidence office. Babe rode in the Lincoln's passenger seat.

Waiting in the lobby, his hands shook. A deputy appeared at the office window. "Would you like your lady?" she asked him. "Oh, Lord. Yes."

His eyes grew red when she handed him the urn. He cradled it and kissed the top. He ran his hand along the urn's side like it might have been Janice's hip.

"Janice," he sobbed. "You're coming home, baby doll. You're coming home."

Man retrieves urn of wife's remains found along I-75 05/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 3, 2012 11:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Dade City's Wild Things blocks PETA officials at gates for court-ordered site inspection


    Times Staff Writer

    DADE CITY — Dade City's Wild Things founder Kathy Stearns refused to let People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals officials enter her facility on Thursday for a court-ordered inspection, court filings show.

    Dade City's Wild Things founder Kathy Stearns refused to let People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals officials enter her facility on Thursday for a court-ordered inspection, court filings show. This comes four days after 19 Wild Things tigers arrived at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma. A judge had granted an emergency injunction July 14, ordering Stearns not remove any tigers pending the upcoming PETA inspection. Photo from Facebook page of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma.
  2. St. Petersburg City Council approves $326 million sewage fix


    ST. PETERSBURG — Last week the City Council learned no criminal charges would result from the up to 200 million gallons of sewage St. Petersburg's sewer system released from …

    [LARA CERRI  |  Times]
  3. Pasco commuters watch out: Broken water main restricts State Road 52

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — A water main break has caused a portion of State Road 52 — one of the busiest roads in Pasco County — to buckle on Thursday afternoon, reducing three lanes of westbound traffic to just one.

  4. Man taken into custody after live streaming drive along Clearwater Beach sand

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Clearwater Police took a man into custody Thursday afternoon after, they said, he drove his car over beach chairs and umbrellas along Clearwater Beach and streamed it on Facebook.

    Clearwater Police took a suspect into custody Thursday afternoon after he drove along Clearwater Beach to Caladesi Island, running over beach chairs and umbrellas. [Courtesy of Clearwater Police]
  5. Once trapped and wounded, manatee and calf return to the wild


    NEW PORT RICHEY — The small crowd readied cameras and craned their necks, peering over heads and through bodies to try and catch a glimpse. Brittany Pharel, 10, wanted to see the hulking manatees, a mother and her calf, laid out on blue tarps Thursday along the edge of the Pithlachascotee River.

    Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo's associate veterinarian Lauren Smith, 33, examines the heart rate of a manatee calf named Cottee just before it was released into the waters of the Pithlachascotee River on Thursday. 
Cottee's mother Pascow was released at the same time in New Port Richey. 
The pair became stranded in May and the mother was found wounded. They needed to be rehabilitated before they could be released into open waters. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]