The homeless man found dead in a tent pitched under the Maxwell Bridge on Jan. 3 has been laid to rest at St. Helena Public Cemetery in an area reserved for indigents.
Thomas Milton Roswell, 59, was buried Jan. 16 at county expense in a gray, cloth-covered wooden casket, said Ernie Rota, co-owner and funeral director at Claffey and Rota Funeral Home in Napa.
A small white stone marker will be placed to mark his grave, but it will be nameless, as is the case with other indigent burials.
No relatives attended the burial. A son contacted by Claffey and Rota was not interested in coming, Rota said. A brother who lives about 100 miles from Napa called the cemetery the day Roswell was buried but has yet to stop by, cemetery manager Carol Sanderlin said.
Roswell’s cause of death was not suspicious, but remains undetermined pending final toxicology results, according to his death certificate and the Napa County District Attorney’s Office. But those who knew him over the years say they believe Roswell drank himself to death.
They also remembered Roswell as a funny and cool guy who loved to play the guitar.
Shawn Greene, 50, had seen Roswell off and on over the years since the 1980s. Roswell would hang out with people who drank and drank, said Greene, who delivered him meals at a Napa apartment years ago. “I think he drank a lot,” he said.
Ben Crain, a homeless man, met Roswell at a residential treatment last summer last year. Roswell had relapsed into alcohol, said Crain, 33.
Still, he remembers Roswell as someone who could be very funny. “He was a nice guy,” Crain said.
Over the years, Roswell, a welder and painter originally from San Diego, had been in and out of jail for various crimes, including burglary, battery, petty theft and public intoxication, according to court records.
In 2007, he was sentenced to four years in state prison after he pleaded no contest for second-degree burglary for breaking into Val’s Liquors on Third Street, according to court records. Police found him two blocks away hiding in the bushes with two bottles of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum, the records show.
Roswell’s estranged wife, Leslie, died last fall in Stockton after a long illness, according to her obituary and a family member. Thomas and Leslie Roswell split up soon after their son was born in 1981, said Leslie’s mother, Patricia Ruckman of Napa.
Ruckman, who had not seen Thomas Roswell for about two decades, remembered him as a “nice-looking fellow,” but one who never seemed “to get it all together.” He drank and had a temper, she recalled.
Another woman from San Diego, Sheila Ford, said she married Roswell when she was a teenager. She and Roswell had three children together before she left him in 1975.
Several months earlier they had come to Napa where Roswell had hoped to find work as a welder at Kaiser Steel. But he could not work because his hands shook due to the drugs, Ford recalled.
Roswell was a “very likable guy,” Ford said. “I had to leave him because of drug and alcohol abuse.” Roswell never helped her with the children who are now grown, yet she remembers him as a talented welder, painter and plumber, she said.
“It’s too bad he couldn’t be there for his children and his grandchildren, but he chose the lifestyle he did,” Ford said from San Diego.