It appears that cases of cemetery vandalism have been on the rise over the past two decades. The reason for this theory is that many states have begun to add to their cemetery laws or build laws designed to charge individuals who vandalize cemeteries. In 2006, for instance, Indiana state lawmakers agreed to get tough on cemetery vandalism and added a section on “cemetery mischief” to Indiana Code:
A person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally: (1) damages a cemetery … (2) damages the grounds owned or rented by a cemetery…or (3) disturbs, defaces, or damages a cemetery monument, grave marker, grave artifact, grave ornamentation…commits cemetery mischief, a Class A misdemeanor,” the section now states.
In the 1980s, Tennessee enacted laws that protected historic graves and as recently as May this year, New York State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. (D-Queens) announced that he sponsored legislation which would increase penalties for juveniles who commit the crime of cemetery desecration. The Senator noted that incidents of cemetery destruction, including defacing gravestones, toppling monuments and disturbing burial areas are on the rise, and although this behavior was once considered a minor act of vandalism, the increase in both the incidents and severity of the crime require enhanced penalties.
Here are some recent cemetery vandalism cases, which show that these destructive and dishonorable acts occur nationwide. All these acts occurred in June 2009:
- New York: Police are asking for the public’s help in their investigation of vandalism at a Long Island cemetery, where brass doors leading into the mausoleum were damaged. One of the side vaults had been broken into and the remains also were damaged.
- Georgia: The city of Royston posted a $1,000 reward for information about a May 23 wreck that caused several thousand dollars’ damage to Rose Hill Cemetery on Church Street. The crash knocked over several headstones, broke some planters, damaged granite coping around some graves and broke a granite bench.
- South Carolina: More and more vandalism is occurring at the Historic Darlington cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the first black cemetery in Darlington. Within the past year, at least 50 headstones have been pushed over.
- Rhode Island: The gravestones of three Civil War heroes were among those disturbed when a vandal toppled 90 tombstones at the Oak Hill Cemetery on Rathbun Street. Elizabeth Vangel, the caretaker of the cemetery, estimates that it will cost $100,000 to repair the tombstones, which were broken, cracked and chipped.
- Minnesota: Police are investigating after vandals tipped over 34 headstones at the Elmhurst Cemetery in St. Paul earlier this week. None of the headstones were broken and most have been re-erected, according to Elmhurst Cemetery Superintendent Jerry Krieger, but the damages still will cost over $7,000, as it costs to bring in equipment to re-erect stones that sometimes weigh over 1,600 pounds each.
In the last case, St. Paul Police Spokesman Sgt. Paul Schnell stated, “It’s such a senseless act. It’s so hurtful to these families that these grave markers mean a lot to them.” If lawmakers have their way in many states, the person who commits the vandalism may discover that their senseless act also is hurtful to their families. Some states are regarding cemetery desecration as vandalism, and – with a previous record of any kind – a senseless toppling of a tombstone could mean years in jail along with heavy fines.