Anthony Wayne Smith was nicknamed “Tiger” — as in Tony the Tiger.

Not one to be tied down by anyone or anything, he would disappear for months and years at a time without raising any concern.

However, when the five-year mark passed since the family had last seen Tiger, they began to worry. His niece began to dig. When she finally stumbled upon him online, she learned he had passed away three years earlier.

Until that moment, she had no idea he had died.

Screenshot/York Daily Record

Tiger, the youngest of six siblings, was a free spirit, according to the York Daily Record. His sister, Cindy Tracey, explained that he got away with a lot because he was the family baby.

When he was 17, Tiger dropped out of school and left home. Without a plan, Tiger journeyed wherever he felt like going, including stops in California and Florida. “He’d just up and go,” his sister said, getting jobs once he arrived — if he felt like it.

Screenshot/York Daily Record

Though his family rarely knew where Tiger was, without fault, they knew to expect him every five years for Christmas. Out of the blue, he would show up, ready to make his “special pizza.” Tiger never talked much about his travels, but when he came back, his family says it was like he never left.

The last time anyone in the Smith family heard from Tiger was 2011.

He had told his older brother that he was currently living in Virginia Beach, Virginia. And when Hurricane Irene hit the city that year, his family began to worry. But since they were used to not hearing from Tiger for extensive stretches of time, they didn’t read too much into it.

But when Christmas 2014 rolled around — the five-year mark since anyone had seen Tiger — their concern increased.

Screenshot/York Daily Record

Tiger had only owned two cars in his life. His preferred mode of transportation was hitchhiking, biking, or walking. The lack of car registration combined with his inability to stay still very long, made tracing him a challenge.

His niece, Lee Ann Turnbaugh, dug deeper, using Ancestry.com and people-searching websites to assist her sleuthing.

When she got a hit on TruePeopleSearch.com, it listed his last known address as York, Pennsylvania, as well as previous addresses in New Freedom, Pennsylvania, and Hagerstown, Maryland, his birth place.

And when the website said, “Deceased Oct. 2014. Age 50,” she didn’t want to believe it. After all, “Anthony W. Smith” is a wildly popular name.

After making numerous calls to police stations and news stations, she learned that the deceased man in question had been found in a “wooded area near a boat ramp on Owl Creek in Virginia Beach.” There was no suspected foul play.

And, sadly, after contacting the medical examiner’s office, Lee Ann learned that when they were unable to locate the body’s next of kin, Tiger’s body was sent to a funeral home where it was cremated. After being unable to reach any family members, the funeral director disposed of the ashes after 120 days.

The Smith family is upset on numerous levels. In addition to losing a loved one, it took three years for them to find out. Cindy said:

“We don’t want other families to go through what we went through. I know, Tiger died three years ago, but to us, it’s new. It’s as if he just died.”

Lee Ann and Cindy recently drove to Virginia Beach to get the full story. They were taken to the location where his body was washed up and the spot on the beach where the funeral home had scattered his ashes at sunset.

They found out that Tiger was living in a camp for homeless people. When they visited, they brought care packages to those living there, “knowing that Tiger was homeless himself and thinking they could do some good in his memory.”

One of Tiger’s friends, Big Country, said that Tiger was well-liked, “that he liked to party, that he was a funny guy and got along with everybody.” He was happy.

Screenshot/York Daily Record

Since receiving the news, Tiger’s family has been planning a memorial service for him. When someone suggested they hold the ceremony in a church, Cindy shook that suggestion off. Tiger wouldn’t have liked that — to be cooped up indoors.

Therefore, the service will be held outside, “near the water.”

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