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Cemetery Vandalism

A Look Into the Criminal Mind

Cemetery vandalism is an interesting part of the study of criminal acts. It may be hard to believe that anyone would violate the sacred area where one is lain to rest, but it is, unfortunately, becoming a more pronounced issue for many communities. Often, the vandalism in a cemetery may stop at graffiti on old headstones, or even simply a group of hoodlums who gather in a cemetery for fun and leave behind unsightly litter. While that was true ten, or even five years ago, the main cause of concern in our modern age is theft from a cemetery. Regardless, because cemetery vandalism has, perhaps, the most unique of motives, it can lead to some intriguing insight into what causes all types of crime. Here are a few examples of what we can learn from some recent acts of cemetery vandalism.

A small cemetery in Oregon suffered a rash of cemetery vandalism in early 2006. The culprits, according to local law enforcement officials were probably, simply, bored teenagers, students at high school near the cemetery. In this case of cemetery vandalism, the vandals entered dark, mostly unwatched portions of the cemetery after dark and held what appears to have been wild parties, complete with beer cans, fast food and even condoms. In the midst of the parties, much of the cemetery’s landscaping came undone, and the hundred year old, often fragile, headstones and statues came tumbling down. Much of the damage was irreparable.

Officials say this case of cemetery vandalism went undetected for a number of months because the portion of the cemetery that was vandalized was very old and very rarely visited. The vandalism occurred, not out of spite or hatred, experts say, but rather simply because it could. Once increased security measures were in place – the local police began conducting nightly patrols of the cemetery, groups of concerned local citizens began visiting graves of their descendants more often, and security cameras were installed – the cemetery vandalism stopped. Despite lucrative rewards offered for information leading to the arrest of those who were responsible for the cemetery vandalism, no one has ever been charged. But, now that the acts are well known among the town and strong security measures have been put into place, the criminals seems to have lost their motive for this interesting crime. A person or group who was bent on cemetery vandalism at all costs – because, say, they were motivated out of fear or hatred -- certainly would not have let a few extra patrols stop them from continuing their mischief.

It is a sad fact of our modern age that cemeteries are constantly vandalizedIn another recent case a 34 year old woman and her family seems to have been afflicted with same curious motive. She chose to commit a number of acts of cemetery vandalism – and even encouraged her 5-year-old daughter to do the same – simply because she could get away with it. This case of cemetery vandalism began innocently enough when, on a trip to visit relative’s graves, the woman’s daughter accidentally knocked over a statue that had been placed near one of the other graves in the cemetery. Never realizing before that cemetery statues can be so easily knocked over and removed, this gave the woman the idea to commit hundreds of other acts of cemetery vandalism over the next few months. The woman, her husband and her daughter made cemetery vandalism a practice all across the state. On pleasant afternoons, they would stroll through the many unguarded, remote, cemeteries near their home, and steal headstones, statues and other memorial pieces. Police later found hundreds on display in the family’s home. In the end, just as with the vandalism mentioned above, it seems that the family’s motive in this case was simply to conduct an act of vandalism from which they could, fairly easily, get away.

Concluding with the main cause of concern in own day and age is the theft of bronze or other precious metal pieces that have been incorporated into a loved ones memorial. Such was the case in spring of 2015, when more than 90 vases were reported stolen from a California cemetery. As often is the case after a large amount of vases or other property is stolen from a cemetery, calls were put out to local scrap-metal yards to be on the look out for any vases that looked like they were for grave markers. This led to the arrest of one individual, who was apprehended after trying to sell parts and pieces of bronze metal, that turns out were the vases, which they actually cut apart so they were (in their hopes) unrecognizable. The unfortunate cause of this string of crime is quite obvious - and that is that the cemetery was being looted by individuals who are looking for a way to make fast cash - regardless of the consequences their actions may have for grieving families, or even themselves.

There is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution to stop all forms of vandalism to a cemetery. Some options are for families, as noted above, may petition to start a community watch over the cemetery, where they take turns offering surveillance. On the other hand, many cemetery are putting regulations in place to help avoid future vandalism - such as refusing the placement of flower vases on their grave-sites, for the fear that they will be eventually stolen. For those who have suffered the loss of a vase due to theft, monument replacement vases that are made of a durable, plastic material and designed to fit with the memorial, are usually purchased to both offer a completed look to their memorial, and to help deter theft as the vase is plastic. Overall through, locked gates, cameras, lights and security patrols, then, appear to be the best methods of stopping cemetery vandalism. In short, cemeteries should work a little extra to make cemetery vandalism a less simple thing to do.

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