A stolen headstone (right) has been returned to a midcoast family after 70 years. Credit: CBS 13

A stolen headstone has been returned to a midcoast family after 70 years.

Jim Harkins was walking his dog at his lake home in Warren when he came across what appeared to be a gravesite.

“So I got a shovel, and I found that headstone buried in about 10 inches below grade,” Harkins said. “The stone was laying down buried right at the head of the grave. And so I cleaned it off and it said, ‘Eleanor, wife of John Plummer. Died September 29th, 1870.’”

The mystery grew when he showed his neighbor what he’d found.

“He came up here and he stood here, and he shook his head and he said, ‘Jim, that’s a grave. But it’s not this woman,'” Harkins said.

The grave was where the neighbor’s dad buried the family horse decades earlier.

So Harkins, a retired Merchant Marine and treasure-hunting captain, started to dig for answers from the town cemetery expert.

“Town records go back to 1875,” Harkins said. “But she said there were no Plummers in this town back then. So that kind of intrigued me even more.”

His neighbor then got some answers of his own.

Back in the 1950s, a state trooper recovered Plummer’s headstone among stolen property, but he never could find the cemetery where it belonged.

That trooper was the neighbor of Harkins’ dad, the same man who buried the horse years ago.

“And this headstone ended up in the trunk of the cruiser and got forgotten there,” Harkins said.

When the trooper passed away, the headstone was put in a barn and someone later put it on the horse’s grave.

Harkins then asked a friend to do some digging into Plummer.

“Finally, they went on Ancestry.com and they got a hit,” Harkins said.

Plummer’s resting place was just 20 miles away in a family plot in Damariscotta, right next to her husband, John Plummer.

“I’m dying to see it,” descendant Barbara Plummer Briggs said. “I just am thrilled. Not only thrilled, I find it incredible. It’s almost unbelievable that anybody would actually take the time to do what these people have done.”

On Thursday, Harkins returned Eleanor Plummer’s headstone and placed it beside her late husband.

“Boy, after all these years and all the twists and turns, the grave robbing, scalawags and scoundrels, and here we are,” Harkins said.