Finding the property where the cremated remains had been illegally dumped would have been difficult for ABC7 without the help of Marcella Fox, her mother Judy, and aunt Janet Hanley.
"Well, a lot of this was overgrown with manzanitas and the path into here wasn't cleared, but we cleared what we could," Marcella said.
It was 26 years ago when the ghastly discovery had been made on 10 acres of land near the Mother Lode town of Sutter Creek. White ashes and fragments of human bones were strewn in heaps four feet high. They were the remains of some 9,000 people.
The property belonged to pilot BJ Elkin, who contracted with the Neptune Society and dozens of funeral homes to scatter the ashes at sea and over the Sierra Nevada. Instead, he put them on a truck, brought them to Amador County and dumped them in piles.
In those piles, were the ashes of Judy Fox's father, Antonio Bonaccorso. She broke the news to her mother.
"Having to tell her that, you know, it broke my heart because they had been married for 42 years," Judy recalled.
Bonaccorso's sister's remains were also dumped there. Elkin was eventually convicted of commingling human ashes and fined $6,000. He served no jail time, but the judge ordered his property transferred to the state cemetery and funeral board which would act as conservator.
"This is actually where it looks like somebody had camped and had fires over the years," Marcella pointed out.
Marcella says her family had been trying for decades to find this place. She succeeded early last year after contacting the cemetery board.
"They had no idea what I was talking about at first. It took them a few days to figure it out," she recalled.
Even the directions which the agency faxed mispelled the name of the road leading to the property.
"There was garbage strewn all over. It looked like people camped here," Marcella said.
It was obvious the cemetery board had not maintained the land. Even more disturbing to Marcella and her family, was the discovery of bone fragments after almost three decades.
"I was just walking around going, 'Well, that's strange. I wonder what those little white rocks are.' And, it dawned on me, those aren't rocks and that's a shock. That was a shock," Marcella said.
ABC7 discovered more bone fragments on our visit. There were also memorial stones left by other families. It was the only clue that the remote hillside was the resting place of thousands.
"We thought it was supposed to be accessible to the family members and maintained or protected, and that it was supposed to be some sort of memorial park," Marcella said, mentioning she expected to see a fence or markers, something. "And, there was nothing, nothing but trash."
"I would like to see something that says this is a memorial area or a sacred place," Hanley said.
"The judge said, 'No, we're not going to allow a memorial to be put up because the deceased did not want markers or memorials in the traditional sense,'" explained Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the Cemetery Bureau. "So, he thought it was important to honor those wishes."
Heimerich said the judge ordered the Cemetery Bureau to protect and preserve the property in its natural state. Even the $100,000 which the judge put into a trust fund to maintain the cemetery remains virtually untouched, accruing so much interest it has now doubled to $200,000.
Since the state will not do it, Marcella and her family say they will continue trimming the manzanitas and cleaning the litter. They also started a Facebook page for those with relatives and friends at the location.
Judy said, "The important thing is that other families can come here if they wish."
She hopes they too may find some comfort in the tranquility of the Sierra Foothills, the final resting place of their loved ones.