- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

Records of the dead still have not been sorted and a court-ordered cleanup of their graves is still not finished at Forest Hills Memorial Cemetery, two years after more than 60 families of the dead complained.
"We want to get the place cleaned up as much as possible," Deputy Prince George's County Attorney John Bielec said Monday of the 99-year-old cemetery west of Clinton.
Updating the records and cleanup was expected to be completed already within a few months after April 20, when Alexander Williams Jr., 56, was fined $3,000 for failure to obtain a cemetery operator's license.
He was given a deadline of Jan. 31 to sort out who was buried in the cemetery and where.
On Oct. 31, Prince George's authorities threatened Mr. Williams with a contempt citation after investigator Raymond F. Gheen reported the work was still not done and submitted photographs as proof.
"The condition of the cemetery was horrendous and unlike any I have ever seen. The cemetery's grass came up to my [waist] at certain spots, trash strewn throughout the property, grave liners (both covered and uncovered) randomly discarded, an unearthed grave covered by plywood, grave markers broken and scattered throughout, and a large mound of dirt revealing broken fragments of liners and markers," Mr. Gheen wrote in his report.
Last week, only three-quarters of the cemetery lawn had yet been cut, said Carolyn Jacobi, founder of Eternal Industry Inc., who represents relatives of the dead, who have been complaining since 2000.
Although open vaults had been closed and much debris hauled away, the huge dirt mound was unmoved, Ms. Jacobi said.
Mr. Williams says he is willing to cooperate but lacks the money to do the job. The cemetery was bankrupt when he took it over in 1997 and there have been no income-producing burials in the past year, said his attorney, Antoini Jones.
"He has never complied," said Ms. Jacobi. "I have been communicating and fighting with him every day."
The case of Forest Hills went to litigation after more than 60 families complained and the county's Office of Business and Regulatory Affairs in October 2000 found piles of debris throughout the cemetery, grave markers missing, human remains in one very large pile of dirt and unkempt records of where bodies had been buried.
The latest deadline of Jan. 31 may be extended, Mr. Bielec said. That chore has fallen on Ms. Jacobi, who expressed confidence in clearly defining the records.
Problems similar to those at Forest Hills are occurring at cemeteries throughout the United States. Ms. Jacobi, who created Eternal Industry after she had troubles with her own relatives' burials more than seven years ago, has tried to help resolve those problems, including some cemeteries in Canada.
"I was involved," Ms. Jacobi said, after a scandal was revealed late last year in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, Fla., involving the the world's largest death-care conglomerate in the world.
Service Corporation International, headquartered in Houston, has 4,300 funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria in 18 countries.
Lawsuits were filed Dec. 19 by 10 Florida families against the conglomerate.
It is charged with mishandling bodies, overselling plots and misaligning graves, which forced destruction or removal of graves to make room for new ones.
Florida regulations are lax for funerals and cemeteries. Bodies do not have to be embalmed. Graves may be any width and depth and may hold more than one body. Some graves are only an inch apart. Only the cemetery keeps records, so if records are not clear, the dead can only be identified by opening the grave for visual or DNA identification.

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