Up to 48,000 People Buried in Already Occupied Graves, Investigators Say
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Up to 48,000 people were buried in graves that were already occupied at two cemeteries in a practice dating to the 1920s, according to investigators for the state attorney general’s office.
Three former officials of Louisville Crematories and Cemetery Co., the city’s oldest cemetery company, are to stand trial in February on charges resulting from the investigation of Eastern and Greenwood cemeteries.
″It may be beyond the abilities of most people to comprehend just what has gone on out here,″ University of Louisville archaeologist Phil DiBlasi, said in a recent interview.
Some graves contained the remains of as many as six people, and graves containing the remains of three or four are common, said DiBlasi, whose team examined about 100 graves at the two cemeteries in eastern Louisville.
Remains from previous burials were found so often in a section of Eastern Cemetery called Babyland that about 70 infants’ bodies were buried only 10 to 18 inches deep, employees have told investigators.
Jim Caldwell, an investigator for the state attorney general’s office, reported finding human bones throughout Eastern Cemetery: in a truck’s glove compartment, a tool box, a storage shed, dirt piles and even a fast-food hamburger bag.
Caldwell said he found ashes from 244 cremated bodies, many of them unidentified, in a cabinet and on shelves in the celler of the crematory at Eastern.
DiBlasi said he and Caldwell also uncovered several buried headstones. Although there are some unmarked graves at the cemeteries, thousands have headstones.
In July, a Jefferson County grand jury indicted three officials on 60 counts, including reuse of graves and abuse of corpses.
Charles Alexander Jr., executive director of Louisville Crematories and Cemetery since May 1986; Clifford B. Amos Sr., board president and acting executive director from 1980 to 1986; and Robert Copley, board vice president and a company employee since 1987 face 188 to 268 years in prison and fines of up to $4,000 if convicted. The company could be fined up to $1.12 million.
The three men resigned from the company.
DiBlasi said he had determined that the practice of reusing graves had been going on long before the three joined the company.
″This isn’t something that started with these folks back in the ’70s,″ as was first suspected, he said.
DiBlasi said his team’s excavations indicated that graves were being reused as early as the mid-1920s at Eastern. Cemetery records indicate it was probably full shortly after the turn of the century.
Eastern, which occupies 15 acres, had enough room for about 18,000 bodies under existing standards, but investigators estimate about 51,000 were buried there, according to DiBlasi and Caldwell.
Caldwell’s report estimated that about 15,000 too many bodies were buried at Greenwood. That would put the estimated number of bodies in previously used graves at both cemeteries at 48,000.
Louisville Crematories and Cemetery, a 141-year-old company which has mostly served Louisville’s poor and middle class, also operates Schardein Cemetery.
The company came under scrutiny in May when employee Bob Allen called the attorney general’s office, Caldwell’s report said.
Allen, a gravedigger and maintenance worker, said graves were reused throughout the eight years he worked for the company. He said that at one point within the past year a skull was dug up and inadvertently left sitting atop a dirt pile during a funeral.
The grieving family never saw the skull, ″and we put it back in the hole after they left,″ he said.