Action 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 Mefford’s 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, “We’ve 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 doesn’t stop on March 21. Other family members are also buried there, including Rowlett’s 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.

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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