In 2013, it was discovered that someone had been going through Springdale Cemetery in Clinton, Iowa knocking down tombstones. Cameras were set up to discover the culprit, and they eventually revealed a young man maliciously throwing a headstone to the ground.
A gravestone is a monument to the deceased, one last physical reminder to the world that they existed. In my opinion, deliberately wrecking such a marker is akin to saying that their life didn’t matter. It’s a terrible thing to do. But as disrespectful as this may be, there are still worse things to do to the dead.
In April of 1992, some all-terrain vehicle riders were travelling near Hickory Hill, a rural pioneer cemetery east of Charlotte, Iowa. As they rode past, they noticed that one of the graves had been dug up. The Clinton County Sheriff’s Department was notified and began a prompt investigation.
A twin grave, belonging to a husband and wife within the Illeman family plot, had been completely opened. Although the vaults were clearly visible and the handles to them had been uncovered, neither had been opened.
Investigators discovered that twine had been run between the gravestone and some nearby trees. Not wanting to attract unwanted attention, the perpetrators could hang blankets or some other covering around the site to help keep their work light hidden. The perpetrators had left muddy footprints on the vaults themselves, and a broken shovel that was assumed to have been used in the excavation was found in the area. And why did someone do all of this? The Sheriff’s Department had theories, but no strong leads.
It might be a case of grave robbing. Perhaps the grave had been excavated because the plot looked like the biggest and most important one there, making it the most likely to have money and jewelry. Surviving relatives of the Illemans however, informed investigators that the deceased couple hadn’t had much money and there probably wouldn’t be anything of significant value buried with them.
Simple vandalism was another possibility. Although there weren’t any gravestones broken or knocked over, smaller objects from the monuments, such as crosses, had been seemingly removed. However, the grave was about six feet deep and ten feet wide. The conditions were muddy, and care was taken to hide their activities from the road. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to break a few stones and walk away?
The last possible answer that the Sheriff’s Department offered was the most sinister by far: a Satanic cult. A Satanic holiday where new initiates became members of their covens fell very close to the time when the graves were opened. Could it have been that cultists were digging up the bodies to use the remains in their rituals?
In the end, it was all speculation with no clear reason. No one was ever caught for the crime. The graves were refilled and things returned to normal. After a while, the whole incident was forgotten by many.
There is, however, an interesting side not to this story.
After the issue had settled down, a relative of one of the other families buried at Hickory Hill decided that his ancestor would never be disturbed in the same manner as the Illeman’s.
So, one day, he began to pour a concrete pad over the graves of his relatives. The pad grew in size until it became big enough to park a car on. It may not have been a foolproof method of deterring someone from diffing up those remains, but they were going to have to try a whole lot harder now!
Cemeteries are places where we can remember all of those who have gone before us. Some of those buried there are beloved relatives, while others are people who pioneered the world that we now live in. Cemeteries serve as a monument to our collective and individual past. As such, these sacred places are worthy of our respect, and continued care and attention.