By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) - The ashes of slain Highlands Ranch eye doctor Toni Bertolet Henthorn have been returned to her family in Mississippi, four years after she was shoved to her death by her husband, Harold Henthorn.
"We know that Toni is in heaven but we'd like an earthly reminder of who she is and what she stood for and everything she did on this earth," said her brother, Barry Bertolet.
The well-liked doctor died in 2012 in a fall at Rocky Mountain National Park. She had a young daughter, Haley, and a thriving medical practice. A federal jury later convicted her husband, Harold, of pushing her to her death during an anniversary hike. He is serving a life sentence in a federal prison but has appealed his conviction.
Following his wife's death, Henthorn had his wife quickly cremated, contrary to the wishes of her family.
He claimed he had her ashes placed in a sealed niche at Cherry Hills Community Church, but Toni Henthorn's family never believed that was actually true.
"No one is certain that an urn is present or, if one is present, if there are any ashes in it," said Todd Bertolet, Toni's brother.
The family's suspicion was fueled by years of lying on the part of Harold Henthorn.
So this past summer, Toni's family asked friends in Denver, Ron and Virginia Cobble, to open the niche and see if there was an urn or any cremains inside.
Asked if she thought she would find anything, Virginia Cobble wasn't sure."I hoped and prayed I would but I was skeptical because Harold Henthorn didn't tell the truth about anything."
Ron Cobble said he was doubtful.
"We didn't think anything was there. I thought it was all lies and show," he said.
A court order was obtained to open the niche and take control of the contents.
In August, the Cobbles and church officials moved to open the niche and see what was there. Virginia Cobble said it was a difficult process physically, since urns are placed securely in niches but are not designed to be removed.
"And when we pried open the urn, the ashes were in there," said Virginia Cobble. "I cried. I broke down and cried ... the emotion of it all. She needs to be with her family in Mississippi, not here in Denver."
Two months later, in October, Toni Bertolet Henthorn's family traveled to Denver, in part to retrieve the ashes.
In downtown Denver, the Cobbles handed over the urn, filled with Toni's ashes. "We had doubts there were even ashes in there," said Barry Bertolet. "The good news is they are going home where they belong. And I'll tell you this is real important for Mom and Dad. To get their baby girl back home. ... They did not approve of cremation and this is a way they can honor her and get her home. "
Bertolet said returning Toni's ashes was hugely important not only for his parents, but to Toni's daughter, Haley, who is now 11 and living in Mississippi with the Bertolets.
"To Haley this is her mom coming home. She was ripped away from her mom so this is getting them back together. She is very excited about her mom coming back to Mississippi. It is huge."
The Bertolet family took the ashes and say they will be interred in a family plot in Jackson, Mississippi.
"She's going home," said Barry Bertolet, "home to Mississippi."
for more features.