Families can't find loved ones' graves at cemetery

ZACHARY, LA (WAFB) - There are nearly a dozen complaints on just one cemetery, and it's getting national attention now. A woman from out-of-state is in town to help families get answers and find where their loved ones are buried.

"Just imagine losing both of your parents in one year, and now you've lost them again," said Linda Johnson.

Johnson can't find exactly where her parents are buried at the Zachary Public Cemetery, and the complaints against the place only get worse.

"Families realize their loved ones may be buried on top of someone," said Carolyn Jacobi with Eternal Justice out of Maryland.

Jacobi travels nationwide to help grieving families with similar problems. So far, she said she has about a dozen complaints for the cemetery.

"We have a headstone on someone who we don't even know where she's at. That could be someone else's grave," said Jacobi.

Shelly Roy built the headstone for Pearl Richardson. Pearl died in March of last year. Richardson's family placed the headstone in the vicinity they think their loved one is buried. Her mother called someone with the cemetery for help.

"I called him and told him to meet us out here to find out where she was buried, and the man told me that was our responsibility," said Richardson's mother Barbara Scott.

"To find your loved one?" asked Chawla.

"That's right," said Scott.

Rev. Stewart with the cemetery told Roy they do not maintain burial records.

"Mr. Stewart said their procedure to finding a vacant spot is to take a probe and stick it in the ground, and when they don't feel another grave in there, that's what they use," said Roy.

Roy said the cemetery dug up four different locations looking for Richardson. When they found a white casket under a blue tarp, they told Roy and the family they found her.

"All women have white caskets. Who's to say that's our family member in the white casket just because you dug the hole," said Richardson's sister Elevina Scott. "We paid $600 to be buried here."

The law states any time someone spends more than $300 to bury a loved one, the cemetery must be licensed by the state cemetery board, but the Zachary Public Cemetery is not licensed by that board.

WAFB tried calling Faith Stewart or Rev. Stewart with the cemetery. Instead, we got a voicemail. WAFB left a message, but no call back. Instead, Jacobi, Roy and the family met with Rev. Stewart Wednesday asking questions and recorded that conversation.

"If you got some money to bury your folks, then you're supposed to go to Southern Memorial where they supposed to bury, but now if you just taking the cheap way out," said Rev. Stewart.

Now, the family simply wants closure with some answers, or else, Jacobi has her own agenda.

"Get this place shut down. If it takes a court order, we'll do it. We've done it before," said Jacobi.

The Stewarts were scheduled to meet all involved parties at the cemetery Thursday, but never showed up. The family, however, told WAFB Rev. Stewart did say he would meet with them Friday.

If you have had problems with Zachary Public Cemetery or any other cemetery, you can call Jacobi for help at (240) 640-0720.

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