Owner feels someone was trying to destroy files
Arson is cause of fire at Grandview

Cindy DiFazio, Staff Writer

At approximately 12:10 a.m. on Sunday, April 1 the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was notified that the business office building at the Grandview Memorial Gardens Cemetery was on fire. The original 911 call was received by the Madison Police Department.

The New Marion (Ripley County) Fire Department was dispatched as well as Jefferson County fire departments. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office were also called to the scene. The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office has ruled that the fire was intentionally set.

Grandview owner, Keith Mefford, was out of town at the time of the blaze.

He purchased Grandview in July, 2005 and says it did not take long to identify huge problems with the property. Mefford discovered water in a lawn crypt last fall while preparing for a burial and alleges that the previous owner, Jim Holt, a Madison funeral home operator, was aware of the problems although he did not install the system.

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 problems range from allegations of misappropriated funds to improper burials.

It is Mefford’s belief that the fire was set to destroy records pertinent to investigations being conducted by the Indiana Attorney General. Monday morning, he said “It’s sick. But, we suspected this was a possibility so we started copying files.”

He explained that the files kept in rows of file cabinets in the now torched building are important to the daily operations of the cemetery, and crucial to any ongoing investigation into the misappropriation of monies or other wrongdoing. “I feel that’s the reason for the fire,” Mefford stated.

It appears that the fire started in the front office. The most damage occurred there. The carpet was reduced to ash, the paint on the walls was black and bubbled, and broken glass was everywhere. The fire smell was strong, but a chemical odor was also pervasive.

There was not a lot of harm done to the adjacent room where paper files are housed. Mefford said that several file drawers were pulled open, but did not catch fire. It is uncertain at this time if any files were taken. He noted that he is strongly considering moving the files to a more secure location now.

“Ninety-nine percent of the files are intact, so from that side we’re okay,” Mefford assured.

Doors that are usually locked were ajar. Mefford believes that they were locked for the night and later unlocked, but doesn’t know how that happened. He explained that a key count is done every day, and that his father-in-law verified that the appropriate employee had locked up on Saturday. Mefford had taken the precaution of having the locks changed when he took over as owner of the property.

Cecilia Means, whose grandmother, Tokie Lanham, was disinterred in March, told the newspaper, “I just can’t believe this. I’m devastated. It’s like the bad news just doesn’t stop!” Means was thankful however, that the files weren’t destroyed.

A Versailles resident whose family purchased plots at Grandview said that she was advised to keep records of what she bought and paid for in a safe place. Mefford agreed saying, “Folks purchased their cemetery packages 20-30 years ago and maybe didn’t hang on to their paperwork.” He went on to explain, “That’s one of the reasons these files are so important, so we can show what they paid for and what they got.”

Mefford expressed some frustration with the pace of investigations into the affairs of the cemetery. “There has been failure clear up to the attorney general,” he commented. “I hope and pray someone steps in to help us.”

Mefford remains staunch in his feelings regarding Grandview. “I love it more every day,” he noted. “We know that we’re right and they’re wrong.” “The truth is going to be told,” he added, “and we’re not leaving!”

The front office at Grandview Memorial Gardens Cemetery near Madison was completely destroyed in a fire that officials say was intentionally set.