Before Michael Jackson's death, grave hunting was a (pardon the pun) niche interest.
Today it's become a national obsession as the mainstream media Keystone Cop their way around our stomping grounds, trying to do what seasoned Hollywood area grave hunters have been accomplishing for years: find out where a body is buried.
Now I can appreciate what Meryl Streep must feel like whenever a flavor-of-the-month model tries to act. Just kidding. Kindasorta. ;-)
Granted, this is no ordinary body. Wherever Michael went when he was alive, it was news. So the frenzy over where his high profile remains have disappeared to is no huge surprise. Still, it's been exhausting to watch the lunacy that surrounds each outlet trying to scoop each other using un-named "reliable" sources, most of which have only relayed bad information.
Some graver friends and I have been approached by the media for insights into the unfolding story and information about the Forest Lawn Memorial Parks in general. None of us sought publicity but we've tried to be helpful and let me tell you, no good deed goes unpunished.
At first we laughed about minor cub reporter level errors because there's no such thing as bad publicity. Here's a sampling:
Misspelled names (i.e., that's Karen Fogerty, not Fogarty, okay?), what studio can be seen from Bette Davis' crypt (Disney, not Universal or even her home studio, Warner Bros., although they are in the vicinity) and certain celebrities being associated with the wrong Forest Lawn or cemetery altogether. (Once more with feeling: Lucille Ball left the building in 2002.) Jayne Osborne was identified by CNN as being 148 years old. (Paging Willard Scott!)
Scott Michaels, creator of the juggernaut death hag site Findadeath.com and operator of Dearly Departed Tours, was misquoted by The Los Angeles Times as saying he added 100 tours this month as a result of interest in Jackson's death. What he actually said was he's had about 100 additional customers over this time last year and that Jackson's death really hasn't affected business.
Mark Masek, author of Hollywood Remains to Be Seen, a mega popular book devoted to celebrity grave hunting (going for as high as $300ish used on Amazon) wasn't even called upon and he used to work for the paper.
But then there's the disturbingly strange case of Steve Goldstein, author of L.A.'s Graveside Companion: Where the V.I.P.s R.I.P. which is a spin-off of his longstanding website Beneath Los Angeles.
It all started innocently enough when Steve was interviewed outside the gates of Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills by ABC News for a segment on Good Morning America. True to good grave hunting form, he started with a primary document, in this case Michael's publicly released death certificate, to establish some facts. (See a copy of it here, courtesy of TMZ.com) Per the death certificate, the disposition of Michael's body at FLHH was listed as temporary.
Next, Steve clearly states his theory (remember that word, theory) that Michael's body may very well be temporarily stored in a family crypt there owned by Motown founder and close Jackson friend, Berry Gordy, drawing on the logic of their relationship. Gordy's property inside FLHH was not even known to the hordes of outlets parked outside of FLHH's gates until Steve's interview was broadcast.
Because they weren't allowed to film on the FLHH property, Steve took photos of the crypt to show on camera specifically for the GMA piece.
After the GMA spot ran, Steve was contacted by Inside Edition and the New York Post. He drove the 140 mile round trip back to FLHH to talk to IE, and spoke by telephone to the Post, retelling this same theory. IE ran the piece sans a promised mention that Steve is the author of a book about grave hunting and used a tiny fraction of the information he gave them, much like GMA.
It's not about publicizing the book, though. It's about giving interview subjects the credit and credentials they deserve in exchange for non-paid time and information.
But what happened with the Post blows everything else out of the water.
Cover of the July 10,2009 edition
In their "exclusive" article not only did Post writers state the Gordy location theory as fact, they claimed to find the body on their own. Steve was never credited for the "scoop" or the factual information he provided, like an eyewitness account of details of the crypt and its surroundings, including the final resting place of Sandra Dee.
Who's Creepy Now?
Also, one of the photos he sent for reference purposes only was used on the cover and again inside with the story. Compare the image below to the cover graphic above.
I haven't seen a physical copy of the paper so I can't tell you if he was given photographer credit, but Steve tells me that seeing his photo in print was a complete surprise to him. No one at the paper asked for publication rights or even told him they were using it. Not surprisingly, he has not been compensated for his original work to date either.
UPDATE 7/12/2009: This morning I picked up a copy of the Post in question at my neighborhood newsstand to scope things out for myself. The photo appeared on the cover and in larger format on page 7 along with the story. Neither were credited to Steve.
Steve contacted the Post to get to the bottom things and was told that there were four printings of the edition. While his credit appeared in the second, third and fourth run, it was left off the first run (no explanation given) which was shipped to the West Coast.
Since last night when I last checked the Post's website, the photo that accompanies the online version of the story has been corrected. Here's a PDF of the print version of the story page that does include Steve's name alongside the photo. Also, a big big thank you to NYC area reader and MJ fan, Leor, who verifies for us that Steve's name did appear in the edition he purchased. // END UPDATE
The resulting viral effect of this story has been astounding. I just Googled "Gordy Crypt" and it spit back 406,000 results in 0.10 seconds. It's been picked up by seemingly every television, radio and online news outlet as well as everyone from Joe Blogger to major publications such at TV Guide and People.
All based on a stolen theory masquerading as fact.
Reps for Gordy deny the Post's story according to reports in the New York Daily News.
By the way, Steve has continued to work with his long-established network of truly reliable sources and has come to the conclusion that the Gordy crypt theory is wrong. Is he going to share details that support his findings with the media? Definitely not, after this experience. Who can blame him?
The ripple effect doesn't stop there.
Thursday morning, before the Post story broke, Fifi and I went to FLHH to document the Gordy family crypt. There was no security surrounding it or anywhere in the Courts of Remembrance, as would be expected if Michael's remains were placed there. Just a couple of friendly gardeners working on the other side of the courtyard.
On Friday, Mark Masek did the same thing and found a very different situation. He met up with a couple of tourists looking for the Holy Grail of holding crypts and they were met by two security guards who tailed them at the scene.
Eventually things cooled off and Mark was able to document the changes in the property in the past 24 hours. Namely the monogrammed gate plates had been removed and carpets covered the similar design on the marble floor.
Here's hoping that this Story Autopsy example gives everyone a unique and higher awareness about just how low the quality of media coverage is when it comes to tracking Jackson's remains.
As a result, from here on out, I'm not sure how willing most knowledgeable grave hunters will be when it comes to lending a skillful hand to the press in its pursuit of the truth. While it's nice to be asked to the dance, it's not all that fun or productive when your partner is a klutz.
Is it no wonder Katherine Jackson has not said one public word about the death of her beloved son? My heart aches for her. She's the only person I'd trust now to tell us where he will eventually rest.
Rest in peace, Michael, wherever you are tonight.
A huge thank you to all my grave hunting friends mentioned above for helping to pull this story together!