Man accused of stealing flowers from grave


It happened at the Forest Park cemetery on Lawndale near Wayside. And as we went there to cover the story, we learned this is not the only time this kind of crime has happened at this location.

Cemetery thefts aren't unique to Forest Park. Every year around the country, everything from headstones to brass urns are taken. But what's unusual about this case is that the suspected thief was caught on camera.

For every grave marker in a cemetery, there is a story. And that of Esme Vasquez, it is a sad one. She was only 10 when she died four months ago from leukemia. Part of the grief process for her family has been to decorate her grave with a flower garden.

On Thursday, when her mother went to the grave, it was all gone -- stolen...except for the headstone.

"This is horrible. I mean, this is my baby. She'll be 11 September 13 and it's not fair," Michelle Vasquez said.

The thefts or vandalism happened this week. Last week. though, in another section of Forest Park, a mother and daughter visiting a relatives grave discovered a $100 floral arrangement had vanished. According to a probable cause affidavit, the women saw it in a white van.

"Then they saw the defendant and another man, who is unknown at this point, bringing other flower arrangements from other plots back over towards the van," prosecutor Tim Ballengee said.

"So they were just loading it up?" we asked.

"That's right," he said.

The suspected thief returned the women's arrangement, but cell phone video they took of the men and the van is now part of an arrest warrant. The charge is theft from a cemetery.

Vasquez doesn't know if the theft of what had been at her daughter's grave only days ago is connected to the case that will be prosecuted. But she knows only too well of how it feels.

"It devastates me. It's bad enough that I lost a daughter but for it to be like this," she said.

The suspect has been identified as 36-year-old Tom Chau. He has not yet been arrested, but when he is, bond will be set at $2,000.

If convicted of the state jail felony, he faces up to six months in prison.

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