RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — An American couple have returned the cremated remains of a British woman to her relatives in England, nearly 40 years after the woman was killed in South Dakota.

Lena White Hat was attacked and strangled in 1977 in Rapid Valley, but she had no family in the U.S. other than her American husband, who died two years later. Her niece, Sharon Papen, learned about her aunt’s ashes while researching her family history.

She claimed the ashes earlier this year but lacked the money to fly them back to England.

Bob and Vikki French, who live in Rapid City, a city about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Rapid Valley, learned about Papen’s plight and volunteered to deliver the ashes during a planned trip to England, the Rapid City Journal reported . The couple returned the ashes to Papen in an airport terminal last month.

Vikki French said the delivery was far more celebratory than she imagined.

“I think that was because of the closure,” French said.

Papen said she’s grateful to those who helped coordinate the safe return of her aunt’s ashes.

“Without you wonderful people, this would not have happened due to my circumstances,” Papen told the newspaper. “It’s not often you find such good people. You have helped me close this chapter in this book.”

Papen said her family may bury the ashes near the graves of White Hat’s relatives.

John Thomas Martin was convicted in White Hat’s death. Court records show Martin had been under psychiatric care before he attacked White Hat with a rolling pin and a pickax, and strangled her with a belt in his home. Martin is serving a life prison sentence in South Dakota.


Information from: Rapid City Journal,

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