Cemetery thefts on the rise

April 30, 2008 5:21:42 PM PDT
Houston police say there has been an increase in a disturbing crime -- people being robbed while attending funerals or visiting loved ones at area cemeteries. At 82 years old, Leland Butler has lived through many things, but he never imagined that in his darkest hour, he would become a victim.

"I'm used to taking care of myself," he said. "But this is wrong."

"It happened April 16 at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery. Butler had just buried his wife of 62 years when he says someone broke into his car. The thief smashed a window, stealing two purses belonging to his daughters. The crime happened just a few feet from where the family was grieving.

"They have no respect for anyone's life," said daughter Debra Westbury. "I feel like if they're going to do is maybe mug them out there and I would never want an elderly person, or a young person out here, hurt."

Houston police tell us that in the last five months, 18 auto burglaries have happened at the very same cemetery. But it's certainly not the only location targeted in the last year. Thieves have hit several cemeteries across the area, including the veterans' cemetery in northwest Harris County.

"They're looking for easy pickings and they get to a cemetery, people's attention is obviously directed and focused on the burial," said Sgt.J.M. Smith with the Houston Police Department.

A spokesperson for Forest Park Lawndale says the company first started noticing the trend late last year. Since then, they've placed signs warning families of the potential danger. They've also began restricting entrance to the cemetery, as well as alerting employees to look out for suspicious vehicles.

Butler says while the security measures are good, he wonders why his family was never told about the thefts.

"Not one time did they tell us they had a problem out here or, 'Ladies keep your purse with you'," Butler said. "Not one word, and that's what we're complaining about."

We put our exclusive Crime Tracker to work at some of the biggest cemeteries in Harris County. The Brookside Cemetery in northwest Harris County has had 30 car break-ins over the past year. There have been six break-ins at the Earthman on the North Freeway and seven at the Veterans cemetery.

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