The burial site of one of the first settlers in Lee County was dug up, damaged and vandalized, county officials discovered Monday.
The grave of Samuel Jones, who was laid to rest in the Flint Hill Cemetery in eastern Lee County in 1882, had its slab removed and grave dug out recently, and county officials are looking for the culprits.
“I don’t have words to describe it,” said Edna Ward with the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission. “I don’t understand why somebody would do something like this.”
While there is a problem with the occasional and more minor vandalism to grave sites across the county’s 175 cemeteries, with cracked headstones here and there, Sheriff Jay Jones said this case was “a little bit different.”
“They actually removed the slab on the grave and dug out a significant portion of the grave itself,” Jones said. “That’s not the usual thing we encounter. This is not the common vandalism we see.”
Jones said the grave site’s vandalism was fresh, and investigators have been assigned to the case with the hopes of prosecuting those responsible.
“It’s a shame that the resting places of these individuals are being disturbed,” Jones said. “There’s no excuse. There’s no reason why this should be going on, but unfortunately it occurs. We are actively working these cases and sifting through any information we can get in identifying those responsible.”
Jones said the slab covering Samuel Jones’ grave, which weighs hundreds of pounds, was damaged and removed before the grave itself was excavated.
“A good amount of soil was removed from the grave site. We’re not sure if the actual [body] was disturbed,” said Jones. “We’re working to determine whether that occurred, but that’s very possible.”
Jones said it was possible those involved in digging up the grave were looking for valuables interred with the body, though the possibility of actually finding anything valuable was unlikely.
Ward said this is the second time in the past year this particular grave was vandalized. An obelisk marking the grave of Samuel Jones was knocked over and broken in early 2020, and the grave had been dug up several feet into the ground in 2021, Ward said.
“The vandalism a year ago, they pushed over the obelisk, and those things are extremely heavy and it’s very difficult to get it back up,” Ward said. “The difference in this [incident] is the whole grave is gone.”
While law enforcement officials were unable to say whether or not the body of Samuel Jones was missing, Ward said, “Let me put it like this: Where Jones was laid to rest, there’s an empty hole. There’s nothing left. They took it all.”
Lee County District Attorney Pro Tem Jessica Ventiere said simple damage to a headstone or structure in a cemetery could qualify as a Class A misdemeanor, though the destruction of a tomb or container of human remains, like a grave, could result in a Class C felony charge. Additionally, the theft of a body laid to rest could result in an abuse of a corpse charge which is also a Class C felony, Ventiere said.
Ward said the Lee County Cemetery Preservation Commission would be seeking restitution for the destruction of the gravesite, and that this kind of vandalism is never acceptable.
“It’s just a crying shame, and this time we aren’t going to stop until these people are caught, and we have asked for restitution in addition to the prosecution,” Ward said. “There are many fine people who have lived here for years, but there’s also a couple of scoundrels among us apparently, and this needs to stop.”