A Skull In The Road Unearths A Plot To Rob Old Graves

Police Accuse 3 Boys Of Digging For Jewels

May 08, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

They are children of the '90s, accused of a crime that belongs in another era.

Police say three Harmans boys looking for old jewelry robbed the graves of two women buried in a century-old private cemetery next to BWI.

One boy took home souvenirs -- a skull and some casket handles --and bragged about it to school mates, police said.

Two of the boys, ages 14 and 16, were arrested Monday evening. Police were still seeking the third teen-ager last night. The boys have been charged withremoving dead bodies without authority, a misdemeanor charge.

Twowere caught after another boy found a human skull lying on the side of Strawberry Road. The skull belonged to Aletha Shipley, who died in1886 at age 77.

Police say they were able to piece together part of the story by following the trail of schoolyard gossip.

"They must have hidden it away and then bragged about it in school," said Lt.Michael P. Fitzgibbons, a police spokesman. "When they were done with it, they left it on the side of the road. That's when the passing youth saw it. He knew enough to show his dad, who called police."

Fitzgibbons said the caskets were dug up Friday and Saturday night. The boys were well-equipped with two shovels, picks and gloves, and a sifter to strain the dirt.

The tiny cemetery sits in a cluster of trees at the edge of an industrial park on New Ridge Road. The family plot contains 15 graves dating back to the 1800s. All were members ofthe Shipley-Harmans family, who settled here in 1668 on a 500-acre estate off what is now Ridge and Dorsey roads.

Many communities androads in the county are named after the families, which were relatedby marriage.

Tim Shipley, a distant cousin to the original settler, Adam Shipley, said yesterday that his parents used to live on the hill near the cemetery but moved to Texas five years ago when Baltimore-Washington International Airport bought the land.

"Unbelievable," he said, when told about what happened to the graves. "It is really sick."

Police took reporters to the cemetery yesterday. A 5-foot-deep hole marks where the body of Aletha Shipley was buried. Police say the teen-agers had to cut through a 2-inch piece of slate to getto the wooden casket.

The boys also dug up the remains of Nora I.LeCato, who married into the family. She was born on Sept. 21, in 1826 or 1866. Time and weather have destroyed much of the writing on her tombstone.

Police said the trio also tried to dig up the grave of a 3-day-old child, but might have been thwarted by a marble slab covering the casket. The boy, the son of Edgar L. and Edna R. Shipley, was born on Dec. 21, 1913, and died on Christmas Eve. He apparently did not have a name.

Police officers say they found a jawbone and old clothes in a knapsack jammed between the foundation and an azalea bush behind one boy's house.

LeCato's skull, five leg and five armbones were scattered at the cemetery. A brown, tattered cloth and handles to the casket, some glazed in gold, were also lying nearby. Allof the bones and other remnants have been moved to a county police evidence room.

"These are the oldest skeletal remains I have come in contact with," said Bill Beall, an evidence technician with the county police department. "But it is not the oddest as far as circumstances."

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