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Burglars commit grave crime
East Union Cemetery volunteer Alan Thompson tries to fix the fence that burglars cut in two places to get into the fenced-off area where they stole grave-digging and burial equipment Tuesday night. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Tools and equipment used for burials were stolen from the East Union Cemetery sometime Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. They were taken from a fenced off area behind the cemetery office and shop located in the southwest corner of the pioneer cemetery.

Missing are a leaf picker, a heavy chain used to lower a casket during burial, a small trailer that is generally put in commission for cremation burials, and a six-foot pry bar that makes life easy for cemetery volunteers Evelyn Prouty and Bill Good when burying the dead.

The leaf picker and the chain are the properties of the cemetery. The small trailer and the pry bar belong to Prouty. She purchased the trailer about five years ago for use at home. The pry bar was a hand-me-down from her late father.

“That was my father’s pry bar. I inherited that thing,” she said.

The four-foot-square trailer came in handy for picking up dead flowers at grave sites left by loved ones when they come to visit, but it was primarily used for cremation burials. They have to dig a hole in the ground where they place the box of cremated remains, then take the rest of the soil to the pile of dirt in the back. Prouty used to haul the soil in a bucket, but the weight was just too heavy for her so she brought her own trailer to use at the cemetery. With the trailer, one need only shovel the dirt in it without straining one’s arms and back.

Prouty and Good believe the burglary was the act of not just one person but at least two people who cut the cyclone fence with a padlocked gate in two places to get to the tools inside. The fence is roughly 40 feet wide and six feet tall and topped with circular razor wires like those found in prison facilities. The burglars apparently tried to remove the razor wires because some of them have been cut. However, they evidently were not strong enough to run away with the tractor used to dig the graves.  They could only move it a few inches out of the covered area where it is parked next to the tool shed where they keep the new mower, a bigger trailer containing a set of chairs, and the other chain that is also used to lower the coffin during burials. The shed which was locked was not broken into.

Prouty estimated the total damage from the burglary to about $1,200. The fence was temporarily fixed by Alan Thompson and his girlfriend Cammie, described by Prouty as the cemetery’s “silent volunteers.”

Prouty said the burglary could have happened Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning because everything was intact when she left the cemetery around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

She said some of the things that were stolen could not be kept inside the shed because there’s not enough room to hold everything.

It is also doubtful that the loss would be covered by the cemetery’s insurance since the deductible is too high, Prouty said.

The incident has been reported to the Manteca Police which is conducting the investigation.