Care­taker of bone-strewn, ne­glected ceme­tery is ar­rested

Pawtucket Times - - VALLEY / NATION - By DAVE COLLINS

A fuller pic­ture of a ceme­tery in ghastly disarray emerged Thurs­day as the long­time care­taker of a grave­yard in Connecticut’s largest city was ar­rested and of­fi­cials de­scribed in new de­tail shock­ing dis­cov­er­ies that in­cluded hu­man bones and cas­ket pieces scat­tered about.

About 130 graves were dis­turbed at the 57-acre ceme­tery and in­cluded those of Civil War veter­ans, Bridge­port author­i­ties said. Grave­stones and re­mains had been re­moved to make way for the newly dead, while some new graves were stacked on top of old ones, sep­a­rated by a layer of dirt.

“What we found right away was a lot of dis­turbed dirt, garbage, head­stones that were over­turned and ... bone frag­ments that were later con­firmed to be hu­man re­mains, and pieces of old cas­kets that date back over 100 years,” po­lice Capt. Brian Fitzger­ald said at a news con­fer­ence.

“We were find­ing gravesites from some sol­diers that were close to 100 years, in some cases over 100 years old, mixed in with new burial plots from 2011 on,” he said.

At one point dur­ing hear­ings he held in re­cent months, Pro­bate Judge Paul Ganim said Thurs­day, “There were lit­er­ally bags of bones that were picked up by wit­nesses that were brought in.”

Rel­a­tives, in the ab­sence of gov­ern­ment over­sight of the ceme­tery, have mean­while taken upon them­selves the mon­u­men­tal tasks of try­ing to es­tab­lish whether ev­ery­one is buried where they should be, de­cide what to do with newer re­mains buried atop older ones, iden­tify the un­earthed bones and frag­ments, and re­store or­der to the burial ground lo­cated just north of down­town.

“It’s ab­so­lutely just un­be­liev­able that peo­ple did this, and they’ve been do­ing this for a while,” said re­tired lawyer Ch­eryl Jansen, whose great-grand­par­ents and other rel­a­tives are buried at Park Ceme­tery. “You never think you have to worry about your dead rel­a­tives ... but I guess th­ese days you do.”

Peo­ple with rel­a­tives buried at Park Ceme­tery had com­plained about con­di­tions over the years to po­lice and other lo­cal of­fi­cials, Jansen said. Ul­ti­mately, it was her le­gal fil­ings over the past year that led po­lice to search the ceme­tery in Septem­ber and ar­rest for­mer care­taker Dale LaPrade on Thurs­day.

She turned her­self in to Bridge­port po­lice and was charged with felony in­ter­fer­ence with a ceme­tery — a crime State’s At­tor­ney John Sm­riga said he had never seen pros­e­cuted be­fore. LaPrade was re­leased on a prom­ise to ap­pear in court Dec. 18.

“No com­ment as or­dered,” LaPrade wrote in a text mes­sage to The Associated Press after be­ing ar­rested. She did not elab­o­rate.

A civil court judge in Bridge­port last week had or­dered LaPrade to stay away from the ceme­tery.

LaPrade ap­peared in court last week in a wheel­chair and told Judge Bar­bara Bellis, “I’ve stayed away. I’ve been try­ing to get out of the ceme­tery for 10 years. I’ve been ill,” The Connecticut Post re­ported.

Rel­a­tives of those buried at Park Ceme­tery praised the ar­rest.

“Jus­tice has been done,” said Jean Mat­tox, of West Haven. “You can’t just run a ceme­tery with­out do­ing the right thing. That’s where you lay your loved ones to rest in peace. That place is a mess out there. Hope­fully she knows what she has done.”

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