may signal beginning of grim findings
Bodies exhumed at Grandview
Cindy DiFazio, Staff Writer
Chains, straps, wires, an earthmover and men wearing HazMat suits
tugged a stainless steel casket out of a grave filled with water.
A steady stream poured from the coffin where the lid joined the
sides. A woman covered her mouth and sobbed. It sounds like the
description of a scene from a horror film. Sadly, that is not
the case. This was a rescue mission.
Tokie Lanham, beloved by her large family, was buried in 1990
with her husband, Lloyd, at the Grandview Memorial Gardens cemetery
outside of Madison. Lloyd had been buried in 1976 in a waterproof
vault. Tokie was to be interred in the same manner. The children
and grandchildren were at peace knowing the couple was together
for eternity and safe. Imagine how their hearts sank when it was
discovered fifteen years later that Tokie had been put to rest
not in a waterproof vault, but in a lawn crypt with insufficient
drainage to keep water away from her remains.
In July, 2005, Keith Mefford purchased Grandview Memorial Gardens
on a land contract. Under the contract agreement, he assumed all
assets and liabilities with a two-year window of time to dispute
the liabilities. Mefford recounted, It only took me four
months to realize the problems here. He discovered water
in a lawn crypt last fall while preparing for a burial. Mefford
alleges that the previous owner, Jim Holt, a Madison funeral home
operator, was aware of the problems although he did not install
the system. Mefford continued, I inherited the mess.
Last year Ripley Publishing reported two lawsuits pending regarding
Grandview. One, filed by Holt, claimed that Mefford defaulted
on payments. The other, filed by Meffords limited liability
corporation responded that Holt was in default for not correcting
problems that Mefford claims to have brought to his attention.
The problem is with the intricate drainage system that is supposed
to be in place in the lawn crypt burial plots at Grandview. Mefford
estimates that 75% were not properly installed. Mefford says he
was faced with a dilemma. I had to make a decision to not
care or to upgrade, acknowledged Mefford.
Mefford chose to alert families to the possibility that their
loved ones had not been interred properly. He left it up to them
whether or not to go through the painful and expensive process
of exhumation, redressing and reburying.
Two of those families, the Lanhams and the Leathermons, gathered
at the cemetery on March 21 for the purpose of righting a wrong.
Marcia Smith of the non-profit group Volunteers for Grandview
Committee declared, Weve got to do this to get justice
for Grandview and for the families.
Cecilia Means, Mary Everman and Terry Rowlett are grandchildren
of the Lanhams. They observed the exhumation of their grandmother
huddled together for support. Their nightmare doesnt stop
on March 21. Other family members are also buried there, including
Rowletts baby daughter. More decisions will have to be made.
D.H. and Donna Leathermon were also present. Their father was
to be exhumed following Mrs. Lanham. They stood respectfully while
Lanham was brought up.
Mr. Leathermon said that when his mother passed away in August,
2006, funeral director, Rodney Nay, told him to go look at the
grave that she was supposed to share with her husband. He cautioned
that it contained a lot of water. Daughter Donna charges, Two
things brought on this situation. The drainage ran into more money
than they expected and someone else needed the money more.
In a broken voice, she continued, In my heart I thought
he was dry even though the ground was wet.
The Leathermon family purchased a total of twelve plots. D.H.
said, Me and my wife were supposed to have vaults.
He spoke emotionally of his parents, explaining, They were
poor people. They had to make payments and it was hard for them,
but Dad wanted the whole family together. He thought this was
the grandest place. Now D.H. says he feels they were lied
to, cheated and misled.
The families agree that Keith Mefford is trying to do the right
thing, noting that he is using his own money to perform these
exhumations and reburials. Prior to getting behind the controls
of the earthmover, Mefford addressed the crowd, which included
television and print media plus law enforcement officers there
to keep the peace. On behalf of the families, he requested,
please respect how important it is that this is private
for the families even though it is being done publicly. We are
going to try to get this taken care of.
Christine Lanham, whose father-in-law, Elbert, a veteran, is buried
just feet away from Tokie and Lloyd, asked, Is that the
way we want our heroes, our grandmas, our children remembered?
Several families who have been impacted by these events have hired
attorneys and plan to seek legal redress in these matters.
CINDY DIFAZIO PHOTOS
Pictured above are members of the Tokie Lanham family
who were present at the exhumation of their loved one
on Wednesday, March 21 at the Grandview Memorial Cemetery
near Madison. They were being comforted by Rodney Nay,
(in white shirt) funeral home director. To his right are
Lanham family members: Cecilia Means, Mary Everman, and
Beverly Effinger. At right shows the casket after it was
brought out of the ground with water pouring from it.
More exhumations are expected to take place.
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