Workers preparing for a burial at the park find a vault in a gravesite that should have been empty.
GLENDALE — While preparing for a burial at Grand View Memorial Park
on Monday, funeral workers found signs of an existing casket in the
The burial, which was scheduled for Tuesday, was canceled, adding force to claims of malpractice and negligence made by people suing the Glendale cemetery.
"It was one of the most … upsetting things I've done in a long time, to go tell that family that they couldn't put their father in that grave," said Paul Ayers, an attorney representing people suing the cemetery.
The discovery Monday of what attorneys say appear to be a plot that was double-sold was the latest in a string of scandals at Glendale's oldest cemetery.
Its troubles began when state investigators in October 2005 found thousands of remains at the cemetery that were never buried or properly disposed of.
The state removed cemetery owner and operator Marsha Lee Howard — who died on Nov. 4 — and prohibited the cemetery from doing any new business.
A group of people with family members buried there and with pre-bought plots at the cemetery filed a civil lawsuit against Grand View and its owners in November 2005.
Their complaints for damages include negligence and breach of contract, among other things, according to court documents.
Then in June 2006 Moshe Goldsman, who stepped in as operator after Howard was removed, closed the cemetery due to a lack of funds.
Its closure outraged a community with many loved ones buried there.
John Lenn was to be the third person interred at Grand View since it closed on June 13.
Recently, the attorneys involved in the civil lawsuit have been able to inter people with pre-bought plots at Grand View with success and relative ease, Ayers said.
The remains of Geneva Hegemier were interred in a Grand View mausoleum on Feb. 2, the first interment service on the cemetery in nearly a year.
On March 20, the remains of Esther Lohr were buried in a shared plot with her husband Lee Frank Lohr, who was buried in Grand View in 2001.
But on Monday, as Ayers and funeral workers were locating the plot Lenn purchased, one of the workers noticed a flower receptacle on the grave meant for Lenn, Ayers said. Flower receptacles are not supposed to be on empty graves, he said.
When the group dug down to investigate, they discovered a sectional vault, Ayers said.
The sectional vault, which is a concrete barrier that separates the casket from the dirt around it, might mean the grave was re-sold to another person, said Mike Arias, an attorney representing people suing the cemetery.
"If you find a new sectional vault in there that wasn't part of the original burial, than that means the grave was reused," he said. "It indicates someone is in there that probably wasn't supposed to be."
The discovery does not come as a surprise, said Kevin Flanagan, spokesman for the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, which initiated the investigation into the cemetery in 2005.
But it does not necessarily mark Howard as responsible for any violation of state cemetery violations, he said. Cemeteries as old as Grand View can have antiquated records that can make burial operations difficult, he said.
"It's possible that there can be a portion in the cemetery where burials had passed that no one noticed since around 1931 when cemeteries were first regulated by the state," he said. "On the other hand, it could mean malpractice."
The attorneys representing Grand View and its owners could not be reached for comment.
Because Lenn bought the plot in 1999, after Howard gained license to Grand View that same year, Howard would have been the responsible party, Ayers said.
"Whatever happened, this is a result of her actions," Ayers said.
"We checked and rechecked with maps and gravestones around it and that's where Lenn's grave is supposed to be."
Lenn's family could not be reached for comment.
Ayers will file a report with the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr within three days of the discovery, he said.
There is still speculation as to who is buried in Lenn's grave, Ayers said.