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Body of pilot who stockpiled cremated remains found

June 25, 1997

SAN ANDREAS, Calif. (AP) _ A pilot who vanished 2 1/2 weeks ago, leaving behind 5,000 boxes of cremated remains that he was supposed to have scattered at sea, was found dead in the Sierra foothills with a suicide note that read: ``I’m sorry.″

A gun was found next to the body, and police believe Al Vieira used it to shoot himself in the temple.

Authorities used dental records Wednesday to confirm that the body found about 150 miles east of San Francisco on Tuesday was Vieira’s. An autopsy also was conducted, but the results weren’t immediately released.

Vieira, 52, was last seen June 5, the day authorities investigating an overcrowded storage locker in a San Francisco Bay area suburb found it crammed with thousands of boxes of human ashes.

More searches of storage space rented by Vieira eventually yielded about 5,000 boxes of cremated remains.

Vieira had contracted with mortuaries beginning in the 1980s to scatter the remains at $50 to $100 a box. After he disappeared, it was learned that since 1985, he had not even been qualified to fly solo.

Max Poehnelt, who believes Vieira failed to scatter ashes of his wife and son west of the Golden Gate, said he had wanted to ask Vieira why.

``Can’t ask him that now,″ Poehnelt said.

``It’s kind of a shock to all of us,″ said Arnold Laub, a lawyer who has filed a class-action suit on behalf of the loved ones who had arranged the scatterings at sea. ``That a man that was so insensitive to fail to distribute these ashes would feel that it’s of such significance when it was discovered to take his own life _ there must have been two sides to this man.″

Vieira’s body was found 200 yards from his girlfriend’s station wagon. It was face-down on a pine-covered ridge in Calaveras County. He appeared to have died about two weeks ago, coroner’s deputy Kevin Raggio said.

A suicide note signed by Vieira found in the car read in part, ``I’m sorry for the pain I’ve caused.″

Eleven boxes of cremated remains also were found in the station wagon.

Vieira’s girlfriend, Denise Hembree, surrendered to police earlier this month. Hembree, who signed many of the certificates claiming ashes had been scattered properly, was released pending further investigation.