No crime found in removal of old cemetery

Graves, markers vanished from 19th-century plot


September 29, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

When Johnetta Miller and Robert LeRoy Mann learned this year of plans to build a house on a vacant lot on Cedarhurst Road in Finksburg, they wondered about the old family burial plot that used to be on the site.

Miller, who lives next to the property, recalled seeing two markers by her fence about 10 years ago. Mann, a former neighbor, also recalled seeing gravestones there decades ago.

Calls by Miller and Mann to a member of the local historical society prompted an investigation by the Carroll County state's attorney's office into what happened to the cemetery - whether anyone illegally moved tombstones or remains.

This month, Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes said a four-month investigation found no grounds for any criminal charges, either for illegal disinterment of bodies or removal of tombstones.

A sheriff's deputy's report said there was evidence that the tombstones might have been removed by a former owner of the property on the 2800 block of Cedarhurst Road or his foster son - both now deceased - but emphasized discrepancies in witnesses' recollections about the exact location of the cemetery and the number of stones, as well as the time and circumstances of their disappearance.

Barnes said he found no wrongdoing by a local funeral home that received a permit to remove and rebury any remains.

"The investigation seemed thorough," said George J. Horvath, a member of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites Inc., who requested the probe. Horvath is also a member of the Historical Society of Carroll County. "Our concern, the coalition, is that it didn't resolve the matter as far as determining what happened and how many bodies were there."

Exactly how the burial plot disappeared might never be known for certain.

Given the age of the cemetery, the length of time that had passed and the deaths of key people who might have provided answers, Horvath said, the uncertainly is not surprising.

Horvath said that he had reported the 19th-century Flinn Garner family cemetery as vanished, based upon a telephone interview, when he was participating in a project, started in 1981, to inventory Carroll County cemeteries.

Garner was born in 1766 and died in 1859, according to Horvath's research. Garner purchased the property in 1806, and the family cemetery was listed in land records at least until 1956.

Miller said she was "really disappointed" in Barnes' findings because she had seen the tombstones. "That's really sad. What a shame."

A building permit for the site was requested April 27 but has not been issued, said Charles L. Zeleski, the county's acting director of environmental health. He said the department is concerned with property lines and rights for the placement of the house, well and septic system - not buried bodies.

A county sheriff's deputy assigned to criminal investigations at the Westminster state police barracks interviewed some who remembered old tombstones on the property from decades ago.

The deputy also interviewed the property's new owner. Although no markers or bone fragments were found, officials said, the staff of a funeral home that received a permit to remove and rebury any remains did find soil different in color from the surrounding dirt, where some local residents recalled two tombstones once stood.

This soil was placed in a vault and reinterred last fall in a space purchased at nearby Evergreen Memorial Gardens.

"There is absolutely no wrongdoing on their part," Barnes said of the reburial, which was announced in a local newspaper.

"The other matter that was related to this was the prior existence of tombstones that were there at some point in time and then disappeared," Barnes said. "In regard to the movement of tombstones within the last 10 or 15 years, the individuals that may have participated are dead."

Illegal disinterment or removal of tombstones is a misdemeanor punishable by up to five years' imprisonment, said Barnes, who nearly two decades ago helped to prosecute a graveyard case when he was an assistant state's attorney.

Two men were convicted after the Oct. 20, 1986, desecration of the historic Pine Grove Cemetery in Mount Airy. The desecration led to more than 100 charges against the two men, after tombstones were vandalized and stolen, and the body of a 6-week-old girl was removed.

Although an inverted cross and spray-painted graffiti hinted at Satanism, Barnes said the crimes later were attributed to drunkenness.

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