Police make arrests in cemetery vandalism cases

June 20, 2008 4:27:54 PM PDT
Two people are charged and charges are pending against another for allegedly vandalizing cemeteries in the Chicago area.The suspected vandals are accused of robbing cemetery grave sites of brass and other metals.

For one couple, the crime has only added to the pain they suffered after losing their daughter.

Bob and Dawn Arnold take meticulous care of their daughter's grave at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove. Brooke Arnold,19, was killed by a drunk driver in 2006, and her parents visit her grave every day.

One morning in January, they showed up only to find it had been vandalized. Thieves had stolen an expensive brass vase fixed to the side of the graven that was filled with flowers and notes.

"You don't know whether you're angry, sad, you don't know whether to cry or to kick something, and that's the way we felt that day," the couple said.

Hundreds of other families experienced the same emotions. For about six months starting in September 2007, almost 1500 graves were vandalized in nine cemeteries in the Chicago area. Evergreen Cemetery in Evergreen Park was hardest hit. More than 1,000 of that cemetery's brass vases were stolen. The thieves also took plaques from war veterans, religious statues and even headstones.

"To have individuals who are so devoid of any sense of a moral compass, any sense of decency, who would go about destroying the graves of these people, these victims, is unbelievable," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

The Cook County Sheriff's Department announced Friday that the suspects have been caught. David Gur-neau, 22, and 27-year-old Alexander Soliveras have been charged with theft. Eric Huffman, 26, is currently in prison for another crime and will face charges when he is released.

Police say the men sold the items for scrap in order to pay for their heroin addictions. Each vase is valued at about $400 but would only yield about $10 from a recycler.

Bob and Dawn Arnold say, for them, it isn't about the money.

"The vase, you can replace that. But something they wrote down that they remember about our daughter is something you can't replace. So, that hurts so much. It hurt them, too," the couple said.

Sheriff Dart says the investigation is now focused on the recycler of the stolen goods. The sheriff also says at least one business is responsible for knowlingly scrapping stolen items, which is illegal. The name of that business is not being released because the investigation is ongoing.


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