November 29, 2012

Tomb door stolen from Albion cemetery

'It happens all the time now . . . They'll take flag holders. They'll take the fences, gates, anything. I don't know what to do about it.'

By Ben McCanna
Staff Writer

ALBION -- A cast-iron tomb door was taken from Maple Grove Cemetery sometime between Thanksgiving and Saturday morning, one of the latest targets of a crime wave sweeping the state -- thefts from cemeteries.

click image to enlarge

The cast iron door to the tomb at Maple Grove Cemetery in Albion has been stolen.

Staff photo by David Leaming

"It happens all the time now," said Marilyn Burgess, a volunteer for the Maine Old Cemetery Association.

"They'll take flag holders," she said. "They'll take the fences, gates, anything. I don't know what to do about it except keep people on their toes."

There are no suspects yet in the case of Albion's missing tomb door, said Capt. Daniel Davies of the Kennebec County Sheriff's Office.

The tomb, which was likely built when the cemetery on South Freedom Road was established in 1820, was used to store the dead during the winter until the ground thawed enough for gravedigging, said Phil Dow, president of the Albion Historical Society. The tomb would have been obsolete by the 1920s, when undertakers developed their own method of body storage.

Kathryn Sawtelle, chairwoman of Albion's cemetery committee, said there has been vandalism at the town's three cemeteries in the past, but the theft is something new. She believes the door was stolen for scrap.

She isn't sure of the door's weight or dimensions, but believes it is heavy.

"I doubt that one person could have lifted it alone," she said.

Metal thieves face challenges when selling their haul, and they won't exactly strike it rich for their efforts, experts say.

Cast iron goes for about 10 cents per pound, according to Courtney Batchelder, a receptionist for Kennebec Metal Recyclers in Skowhegan. Brass, by comparison, fetches $1.60 per pound.

Maine law requires recyclers to record the make, model, year, color and license plate number of vehicles that deliver scrap metal. Employees at Kennebec Metal Recyclers also take down the name and address of each person who sells scrap and keeps a copy of the person's photo ID.

If anything raises suspicion, employees will call police after the sale, she said.

Burgess' association gathers historical information about the state's cemeteries, and also keeps track of vandalism and theft. Burgess said she doesn't have hard numbers, but has seen reports of metal thefts all over the state.

She believes that many instances of theft or vandalism in cemeteries go unreported or unnoticed.

"Sometimes no one goes into (cemeteries) for several months at a time, so you can't even tell exactly when some of these things have happened," she said. "A lot of these old cemeteries don't have any living descendants in the area."

Burgess said the Maine Old Cemetery Association tries to prevent theft and vandalism by raising awareness.

"We talk to the neighbors around the cemetery and ask them to keep an eye out. We ask them to go by the cemetery every so often," she said.

Ben McCanna -- 861-9239

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