New London - It had been weighing on Linda Hein's mind for 43 years.
In 1968, while visiting her father who was stationed at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Hein and two friends discovered a pile of headstones in Ye Towne's Ancientest Buriall Place, the oldest graveyard in New London County.
They took a portion of a stone that read "Samuel, Son of Sam'l and Elizabeth Latim ..."
Later, when the friends went back home, Hein ended up with the headstone in the trunk of her car. Over the years she carried it with her every time she moved.
This fall, when she and her husband planned a trip from their home in Wisconsin to Connecticut, she returned what turned out to be a 240-year-old gravestone that had marked the final resting place of 10-month-old Samuel Latimer.
"In my 26 years working here, I've seen a lot (of) things turned in but I was surprised to see someone in my office with a headstone,'' said City Clerk Michael Tranchida.
"It's been a puzzle in my brain for all this time,'' Hein said when contacted at her home in Cross Plains, Wis. "I knew it was someone's headstone and I just couldn't throw it out."
Hein was 20 years old in 1968 when she and her friends came from Wisconsin to visit her father, who lived in New London. They were on their way to summer jobs at Martha's Vineyard. She does not remember why they were at the cemetery or why her friend took the stone. When the friend decided to fly back to Wisconsin, Hein ended up with the stone.
"At one point I was going to use it as a garden ornament, but I didn't,'' she said. "It was stored in my garage and for a number of years it was behind a bush at my mother's house.
"I did feel guilty about taking it,'' she said. "I knew this wasn't right and I wanted it resolved."
Tranchida contacted Janice Watrous McDonald, a genealogist from Groton, who volunteered to research documents about the Ancientest cemetery, which was established in 1653.
McDonald discovered that the broken stone probably belonged to Samuel Latimer, the 10-month-old son of Samuel and Elizabeth Latimer. The baby died on Oct. 26, 1771.
"It's incredible,'' McDonald said. "Kudos to that woman for not getting rid of it."
Tranchida, whose last day as city clerk was Friday, said he hopes the stone is eventually placed in its original location at the cemetery.
"It was nice she returned it,'' Tranchida said. "It's nice it's back home."