Investigations

Thieves targeting cemeteries for quick money

Thursday, April 04, 2013

An Eyewitness News Investigation into what appears to be a growing epidemic nationwide - cemetery thieves stealing copper vases attached to headstones, even mausoleum doors. Anything with metal that can be sold as scrap is being taken.

One cemetery in New Jersey has had to take dramatic steps to deal with the problem.

Cemeteries are so difficult to police, usually acres of grounds. By their very nature, they're supposed to be private. Thieves are increasingly taking advantage of that fact, cashing in big time and adding to the grief of family members already dealing with loss.

"These are our family members and their graves have been desecrated," Pat Pinella said.

Pinella talks about the emotional hole in her heart as she looks at the literal one in her father's headstone at Franklin Memorial Park in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

"You just came and it's gone, and then I started looking at the other graves around me. Theirs was gone too," Pinella said.

Countless copper vases, chained to the headstones, stolen - snatched by thieves as you can see in exclusive surveillance video.

"They got this one and my mom's over there," Pat Gionnatto said.

Gionnatto and her brother buried their sister and their mother, and now both graves are now vandalized. They paid $500 extra to the monument company put the vases on the family headstones.

"It's a beautiful piece and now it's gone," Gionnatto said. "This one also was chained down so they yanked it pretty good."

"You can hear the clank of them breaking the chain. It's just terrible," cemetery owner Jonathan Pace said.

Pace put in surveillance cameras a few months ago when grave owners started complaining about the vase thefts.

"The cemetery doesn't have the wherewithal to keep replacing the vases and unfortunately, we feel they're going to be stolen again," Pace said.

It's such a serious problem the cemetery is prohibiting any new memorials with the bronze vases. Plastic ones are being offered at cost. The owner says a gate or a fence is not realistic.

The North Brunswick police department has stepped up patrols and made several arrests and detectives are following up more leads.

"I believe it's a crime of opportunity. Quick money," Captain Brian Hoiberg, North Brunswick police, said. "They're taking them, bringing them to local junkyards, scrap yards, and cashing in there."

Other local cemeteries have also had thefts of brass and bronze from mausoleum fixtures.

"Unfortunately, there's no shortage of this crime on the internet," Pace said.

Pace was stunned to learn the problem is epidemic around the country, which is little comfort for people like Pat Pinella, who now buys cheap plastic floral cones for her father's flowers.

"It doesn't honor my father at all having a piece of plastic standing there," Pinella said. "It's wrong on so many different levels."

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