Missing bodies; remains thrown into nearby woods; grave markers stacked on top of one another: This is how a former Connecticut cemetery caretaker is alleged to have treated the grounds she was tasked with caring for. Now, following a months-long investigation into her alleged misconduct at the funerary grounds, she has been formally accused of desecrating scores of graves — incensing the loved ones of those buried there.
Dale LaPrade, 64, has been accused of felony Interference with a Cemetery — which involves a person who "destroys, mutilates, defaces, injures or removes" a tomb or "wantonly or maliciously disturbs the contents of any tomb," , according to Connecticut state law — after police discovered the disregarded body parts, caskets and headstones in woods near Bridgeport’s Park Cemetery.
She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
Bridgeport authorities said that roughly 130 graves at the 57-acre had been tampered with. Tombstones, including those belonging to veterans, had been piled on top of each other and corpses had been removed from their resting places to make room for new bodies.
"What we found right away was a lot of disturbed dirt, garbage, headstones that were overturned and ... bone fragments that were later confirmed to be human remains, and pieces of old caskets that date back over 100 years," Police Captain Brian Fitzgerald said at a news conference on Thursday, according to NBC New York. "We were finding gravesites from some soldiers that were close to 100 years, in some cases over 100 years old, mixed in with new burial plots from 2011 on."
Relatives of those interred at the cemetery have begun trying to determine if every body is buried where it should be.
"It's absolutely just unbelievable that people did this, and they've been doing this for a while," Cheryl Jansen, who has relatives, including her great-grandparents, buried at Park Cemetery, told NBC New York. "You never think you have to worry about your dead relatives ... but I guess these days you do."
Jansen’s legal filings, which complained about burial plots having tire marks on them, sunken graves and human bones being scattered around, were what finally led authorities to search the cemetery grounds, according to News 12 Connecticut.
Jean Mattox, a retired medical records worker who also has relatives buried at the cemetery, expressed her horror at what has been uncovered about LaPrade’s ghastly operation.
"I was so upset," Mattox said, according to WTNH, a New Haven, Connecticut-based news organization. "When you lay down a tombstone, that's the way it's supposed to be and where it's supposed to stay. My mother means everything to me. She meant everything to me, and it was really disturbing to me. If I was a millionaire, I would dig her up and move her to another cemetery."
LaPrade responded to inquiries from The Associated Press with a text message that read "No comment as ordered;" she has been ordered to stay away from the cemetery by the court and has been removed from her position at the facility.
It is unclear why Dale LaPrade’s husband Daniel, who managed the oversight of the cemetery with her, was not arrested along with Dale, according to NBC New York.
Meanwhile, an inventory of the entire site has not yet been completed, so it remains unclear exactly how many plots were tampered with.
Dale LaPrade is set to appear in court Dec. 18.
[Photo Credit: Bridgeport Police Department]
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