2013-04-10 / Front Page

Grave robbers hit cemetery at Old Church

Graves of soldiers and infant excavated, ransacked
By Anne Marie Kyzer

A substantial reward is being offered following the discovery of grave robberies in Burke County this morning (Saturday) at a historic cemetery where Revolutionary War and Confederate soldiers were buried.

At least five graves were excavated at Old Church cemetery off Idlewood Road south of Waynesboro, the bones of soldiers and an infant scattered as thieves likely searched for artifacts, personal effects and precious metal.

The unsettling scene was discovered by the Commander of American Legion Post 120, which is entrusted with the care of the cemetery, when he went there to mow the grass.

“I came around here and saw this marker moved and the grave dug up and just thought, ‘What in God’s name?,” Post 120 Commander Leroy Bell said, pointing to the remains of Private Wilbert F. Lewis, who fought as a teenager in the Confederate States Army. The Civil War veteran’s bones and skull could be seen within the brick inlay of his grave, where the marker had been pushed back and the metal covering thrown to the side.

Burke County Sheriff’s Office investigator Sgt. Sean Cochran and Deputy Gene Boseman said they’d never seen such in their years on the force.

“This is not mischievous here,” Sgt. Cochran said. “This was done for a purpose.”

The men estimated the crimes must have been committed within the past three weeks, considering the large amount of rain that’s fallen this spring.

Bell said it’s unclear what might have been stolen from the graves, but what they left behind was disturbing.

Just beyond torn shards of one soldier’s uniform, the dentures from his mouth were left lying beside the hole of his grave. They were not able to identify the veteran at the time, since his large tombstone had been sent crashing front first to the ground by whoever robbed his grave.

The robbers dug up the cast iron casket of baby Emma Jane McElmurray, who died at 13 months old in 1884, and smashed the iridescent glass at its head. All that was left of its contents were portions of her tiny skull and the sole of her infant shoe, which had been dumped on the ground beside the casket. They left the grave of her infant sister buried beside her untouched, while others in neighboring plots were disturbed but not fully excavated.

“This just devastated me this morning,” Bell said, running his finger along the stitching holes at the outer edges of Emma’s Jane’s shoe sole before tenderly laying delicate skull fragments back inside the casket.

He and other Legion members, including Sheriff Greg Coursey, quickly decided to offer a reward for information about the crime and expect the size of the reward to grow as others hear about the incident.

The cemetery dates back to well before the Revolutionary War, he said, noting the land had been granted by the Church of England.

According to a historical marker at the site, 47 acres were granted for the Anglican Church, when St. Georgia’s Parrish, now Burke County, was established in 1758. It was later a Methodist church until mid-1800s. The American Legion restored the property in 1929, but the Old Church was destroyed by fire in 1934. Since then, Post 120 has cared for the cemetery grounds, and members had just last week begun planning the restoration of many of the markers.



Anyone who has information about the grave robberies at Old Church cemetery off Idlewood Road is asked to contact investigators at the Burke County Sheriff’s Office by calling 706-554-2133.

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