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Thefts of bronze vases a cause of concern for cemetery plot owners

Former Waukegan Alderman Bobby Evans his sister former North Chicago Mayor Bette Thomas survey damage family  gravesites Mt. Olivet

Former Waukegan Alderman Bobby Evans and his sister, former North Chicago Mayor Bette Thomas, survey the damage to family gravesites at Mt. Olivet Memorial Park in Zion. | Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2013 3:40PM

Families of the deceased buried at Mt. Olivet Memorial Park in Zion are finding something they didn’t bargain for after the theft of bronze fixtures from the cemetery’s burial plots.

Hundreds of the inverted vases, that can be pulled up from underground to hold floral bouquets, have gone missing from the cemetery at 1436 Kenosha Road, leaving in-ground monuments with holes the size of softballs.

“They’re selling them for scrap,” said former Waukegan Alderman Bobby Evans, who has laid many loved ones to rest, including his parents, at Mt. Olivet. “They’ve been stealing them across the whole cemetery.”

Jordan Huff, 33, of Antioch and Makell Meyerin, 27, of Spring Grove, were arrested on June 24 and charged with “damage to 10 or more graves” after they were caught on surveillance camera removing vases.

Former North Chicago Mayor Bette Thomas, Evans’ sister, who has purchased eight plots at Mt. Olivet, said the cemetery has failed to communicate that it assumes no liability for vandalism to gravesites.

“They should give people buying lots the courtesy of explaining they’re not responsible for any damage,” Thomas said “If we knew, we could buy insurance.”

LeNette Van Haverbeke, CFO/treasurer of the family-owned Mt. Olivet, who warned that publicizing cemetery theft also increases it, admitted that the cemetery did not have a rule on liability before 2009, when grave robbery became “epidemic.” Since then, she said, the cemetery has explained its policy to customers and asked them to initial it.

“These thefts have been a tragedy to all families who have loved ones interred in our cemetery,” Van Haverbeke said. “We serve good people here and they are devastated. It is very sad.”

According to court records, Huff, who has a long criminal record, and Meyerin were also charged with misdemeanor theft in 2012. Each received a one-year conditional discharge.

Thomas, whose daughter recently purchased a Mt. Olivet plot for about $2,000, and Evans attended a court appearance for the alleged grave robbers last week.

“The cemetery didn’t show up,” Thomas said. “I don’t feel very good about that.”

Thomas said attorneys sparred over sentences that could include drug rehab for Meyerin and several years in prison for Huff.

“They’re on drugs and they’re doing everything they can to get drug money,” said Thomas, whose husband, siblings, in-laws, and two children − in addition to parents − all lie near each other at Mt. Olivet.

About 590 graves have been raided, according to Van Haverbeke. Other cemeteries in Lake County and around the country have seen similar crimes. Thomas also wants those who illegally purchased the vases prosecuted.

Bronze sells for $1.65 a pound at Lake County Scrap Metal in Lincolnshire, where company Vice President Dan Segal said scrappers must meet conditions for any sale over $100.

“Something like that, with that type of weight and that type of price, they would have to show ID,” said Segal, who added that the company also requires documentation for burial-related items, including caskets and gravestones.

Bouquets of artificial flowers still decorate many graves at Mt. Olivet − stuck inside now-empty holes.

Thomas, who buried her daughter April at Mt. Olivet in November, 2012, said she doesn’t plan to replace the vases, which the cemetery is now offering in cheaper aluminum and plastic. She doesn’t visit the cemetery, as a rule, and doesn’t bedeck the graves of her loved ones.

“I believe in giving flowers to people while they can enjoy them,” she said. “But to each his own.”

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