US cemetery cases: Unmarked graves, empty urns, resold plots

AP News
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Posted: Apr 11, 2016 12:26 AM

Caskets crushed into the same grave, others buried outside cemetery grounds, hundreds of families unable to find loved ones — what happened at Galilee Memorial Gardens in suburban Memphis, Tennessee, is horrifying but not all that rare. Nationwide, lawsuits have been filed and charges pursued over mismanaged cemeteries, and critics are calling for more rigorous oversight.

A brief look at civil and criminal cases and investigations involving issues at other cemeteries.

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

Army investigators said in 2010 that they found more than 100 unmarked graves, many sites with headstones that are not recorded on cemetery maps, and several burial urns that had been unearthed and dumped. Two officials were disciplined. The Army also found eight sets of cremated human remains that had been buried in a single location at Arlington in another investigation, Army spokesman Christopher Grey said.

"Although the discovery of multiple urns in one grave was very concerning, our discussions with an assistant U.S. attorney determined that the burial of multiple cremated remains in one grave site does not constitute a criminal violation," Grey wrote in an email to the AP.

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SUBURBAN CHICAGO

Two brothers were convicted of digging up graves, dumping human remains and reselling plots at an Alsip, Illinois, cemetery between 2003 and 2009. The graveyard contains the burial site of lynching victim Emmett Till and blues singers Willie Dixon and Dinah Washington, and former heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles.

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CALIFORNIA

A lawsuit filed last year accuses Eden Memorial Park outside Los Angeles — one of the nation's largest Jewish cemeteries — of breaking vaults to make room for more graves and throwing out human bones in a pile. The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages and comes about a year after Service Corporation International settled a lawsuit for $80.5 million over similar complaints at the same cemetery. SCI owns 2,000 funeral homes and cemeteries in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Canada, according to its website.

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WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

SCI paid $100 million in a 2003 settlement of a lawsuit brought by relatives of people buried at Menorah Gardens. The lawsuit alleged that cemetery employees disinterred bodies, tossed bones into the woods, oversold plots and misplaced the dead.

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ST. LOUIS

A federal jury in March 2015 awarded $491 million in damages in a lawsuit brought against a bank and a company whose officials were accused of taking money from pre-arranged funeral contracts for their own personal enrichment. At least six officials of National Prearranged Services Inc. have been sentenced to federal prison terms ranging from 18 months to 10 years.

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RURAL TENNESSEEE

In Hawkins County, a cemetery owner is accused of taking money paid by customers for pre-need contracts and using them for personal expenses. State regulators say Vickie L. Ringley accepted more than $35,000 in burial contracts that she failed or refused to fulfill. She's also accused of using money from new customers to pay for services promised earlier to other paying clients. Ringley was indicted in 2015 on charges of theft, money laundering, violating cemetery regulations, and forgery, according to prosecutor Lindsey Lane. Ringley is in jail pending a June 21 trial. The public defender's office did not return a call seeking comment on her case.