INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Thieves broke into an Independence home near Vaile Mansion Sunday and stole a rifle and machetes. But they made off with something even more valuable to the deceased homeowner’s daughters.

Ricki Brown noticed something unusual on the way to her Sunday tennis game at Mill Creek Park.

“I was on the phone to my mom and I was like, ‘This is weird.’ There’s pictures scattered all over. l got out and looked and noticed they were old pictures.”

There were hundreds of photos from a lifetime of holidays and vacations dating back 40 years. Little did she know many of the photos were taken at a home not far away, by parents whose ashes are now buried in a backyard memorial garden.

“Sunday between 2-7 p.m. they actually broke into the house, pulled up a window got in the house kicked all the doors in and ransacked the house. We’re not sure exactly what was taken, mostly family heirlooms and sentimental things,” Kristina Jemes explained.

Brown didn’t know the people in the photos or that thieves had probably disappointedly dumped them, rummaging through boxes from their heist. But she was sure someone was looking for them.

“Pretty much on the back of every one of them it explained who was in the picture, what year it was taken,” Brown said.

So she collected them throughout the park and posted the array in an Independence community Facebook group.

“Within five minutes someone had tagged them in it.”

On Wednesday, Brown delivered the photos to Larry and Jeanie Mays’ daughters.

“Yep, see that’s me as a kid,” Jemes said excitedly, pulling the first photo out of the bag.

Jemes and her sister Angela Mays spent the afternoon on a trip down memory lane.

“That’s probably early ’80s, and that’s when Dad worked at Miller; he was a keg driver,” they said looking at photos of their parents who died in 2010 and 2021.

“Flinstone Park, I remember that,” Jemes said looking at another photo.

They are now able to put images with the moments and emotions forever etched in their minds.

“Thank you for finding our family pictures. They are irreplaceable, especially with both of our parents gone,” Jemes told Brown.

A simple gesture, but one the sisters say many people wouldn’t have bothered to make the time and effort.

“Our parents raised us with morals. There’s not a lot left these days, so it’s good to see that it still exists,” Mays said.

If you have any information on the break-in, call Independence Police. If you discover more of the family photos, you can also contact FOX4 reporter Dave D’Marko.

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