Wednesday, March 03, 1999

Mother mislaid to rest

Missing grave is loss on loss

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rosa Bentley took her mother's gravestone home after the cemetery lost her mother's remains.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        For weeks, Georgia Mae Sneed's red marble gravestone sat next to a shed at Beech Grove Cemetery in Springfield Township. Now the gravestone sits next to a vacuum cleaner in the basement of Rosa Lee Bentley's Westwood house. It will remain there until the whereabouts of her mother are discovered.

        Mrs. Bentley has sued Bethel AME Church, owners of the cemetery, for losing her mother's remains.

        Tuesday, Mrs. Bentley stood on the muddy earth where her mother was supposed to have been buried.

        “They took away my dream of being buried next to my mother because I don't know where she's at,” she said. “It put a burden, not just on my heart, but on my mind — wondering what actually happened to my mother.”

        After less than an hour at the cemetery, Mrs. Bentley went home. She took the gravestone with her.

        Not knowing the location of the pink casket — which also holds jewelry and Mrs. Bentley's high school diploma — has left her feeling empty.

        “And a feeling of lost. Not having a place to visit or to place flowers on special holidays — all of this has been taken away from me and my family,” said Mrs. Bentley, 28.

        After the April 6, 1994, burial services, Mrs. Bentley visited the gravesite each week for about a year. The visits stopped when Mrs. Bentley had a third child, but resumed soon after.

        In February 1997, the family bought a headstone and had it delivered to the cemetery. At her Easter visit, Mrs. Bentley noticed that the headstone had not been placed at the grave.

        That's when she inquired about her mother's remains. The cemetery operator checked the burial book, and later some computerized records. Mrs. Bentley was told records of her mother didn't exist.

        In the weeks that followed, Mrs. Bentley said she found someone else's headstone at her mother's supposed gravesite. Her mother's headstone had also been moved to another grave.

        Finally, a minister at Bethel AME Church acknowledged to her that he did not know where her mother was buried, she said. Further, she said, the minister told her that her mother was buried without a marker. Mrs. Bentley set a Monday deadline for cemetery officials to tell her where her mother is located. She heard nothing, so she filed a lawsuit Monday in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

        Mrs. Bentley last talked with cemetery officials Jan. 29. That day, she watched as caretakers dug up a grave they thought was her mother's. It wasn't.

        To make matters worse, she said, cemetery officials have been unsympathetic in her quest to find her mother.

        Cemetery officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A woman who answered the phone at the house of a cemetery trustee said they weren't taking calls from reporters.

        Joe Pentecost, president of Allison & Rose Funeral Home Inc. in Northern Kentucky, said Mrs. Bentley's case could simply involve faulty record-keeping. Mr. Pentecost, whose firm is not involved in the case, said all graves should be numbered. “They should know exactly where it is,” he said.

        A family has a right to know where its loved one is buried, Mr. Pentecost said. That means cemetery officials may have to exhume more bodies until Mrs. Bentley's remains are found, he said.

        “I presume her mother is somewhere here,” said Robert Newman, Mrs. Bentley's attorney. “I don't know how they can find her. I don't know that they can just dig up every gravesite here. I think other people (would) have strong objections to their kinfolk being unearthed and having their caskets opened.”

        Dennis Ginty, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Commerce, which registers active cemeteries, called Mrs. Bentley's case “very rare.”

        In 1992, a grand jury investigated Wesleyan Cemetery operator the Rev. Joseph Garr. The investigation began after several families said they couldn't locate graves of relatives in the Northside cemetery. There was no indictment.


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