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About those grave (marker) robbers

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POSTED April 15, 2013 1:34 a.m.

David Massey helped shed some light on one of the area’s more intriguing, odd-ball mysteries.

How did 250 cement grave markers end up in the backyard of an empty rental property along San Juan Street in Manteca?

Don’t laugh, but as far as Massey can tell, they simply walked off.

“How these particular markers made their way to a backyard in Manteca as footings, I have no idea,” wrote Massey, the director and facility manager of Park View Cemetery and Funeral Home.

“I can only speculate that back when this occurred, a cemetery crew member may have allowed someone to take them … and that allowed the family that used them to save on their home improvement project. That is just a guess.”

Here’s what we know to be fact.

The personalized stones were being used as pavers to extend a concrete patio, planted upside down so that the names and dates wouldn’t show.

The markers were eventually discovered by prospective renters, who, according to a handyman, high-tailed it out of there before the ink could dry on their application.

“I … s-s-s-see … dead … people! … (Front door slams. Car door slams.) … VROOOM!”

The handyman cleared the property of the large cement stones on Friday, March 29, but this is hardly a dead issue. Questions remain. Who did the stones belong to? Where did they come from?

Massey can’t say for certain, but he has a thought. See, at least one of those markers belonged to one of his permanent residents: George W. Hicks, 1878-1963.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department traced the stone back to Park View through the Coroner’s office.

On Friday afternoon, Massey visited Hicks’ tomb, confirming the county’s finding.

Hick’s was still there – thank god – but his cement marker was not.

It had been replaced by a large upright monument for him and his wife, Mary L. Hicks (1881-1947), “so the cement marker was pulled off the grave to make way for the double upright,” Massey wrote.

That, he added, is standard operating procedure.

Before 1990, Park View would make grave markers for all of its burials. Those markers were considered permanent unless the family decided to replace it with another typically more elaborate in size and style (read: granite, marble or bronze).

In that instance, the old markers would collect in a discard pile somewhere in the yard.

They would not be sold, auctioned off, given away or used as a cheap substitute to a cement pad in someone’s backyard.

“I do not think that is an appropriate use of the markers,” Massey said.

When the discard pile is large enough, Park View’s protocol is to 1.) use the city’s cement disposal system or 2.) break the markers down for the construction of dry wells on the grounds.

Since 1990, Park View only makes cement markers for those that request them. It was a cost-cutting move. The folks at Park View stopped making cement markers because they realized about 90 percent of the families were buying elaborate markers, anyway.

What’s more, cement is so passé. Park View now makes temporary markers out of aluminum and stakes for those waiting for a grandiose memorial.

So what can we deduce from our findings and conversations with Massey and the San Joaquin County Sherriff’s Department?

If what Massey says is true, and these cement markers are neither sold nor given away, we can be certain of only one thing:

We’re dealing with grave robbers – who love a cheap backyard renovation.

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