Community leaders decry random bulldozing of historic cemetery

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Under a scorching Texas sun, the descendants of the Bradshaw family walk a partially overgrown cemetery and shake their heads.

"My main concern is right here," says an emotional Sabrina Joseph, pointing to her mom's grave site. "My mom's laying right here, my three brothers are buried here."

Joseph and her family are worried that while her mother's gravestone is still intact, others in the historic Bradshaw cemetery were damaged this week.

"We got a call the other day that someone was down here digging up the graveyard," said Michael, Joseph's husband.

Family members say they rushed to the cemetery, and the people operating the excavating equipment quickly disappeared. Now, community leaders and far flung relatives are demanding answers.

Community activist Quanell X held a news conference Thursday afternoon. During the conference, he said efforts to find out who tried to excavate the property have been unsuccessful. Quanell X demanded that local and state officials step up to protect the cemetery.

But this may not be a simple case of vandalism or a property dispute. According to real estate records, there is serious confusion as to who even owns the property.

Ethel Nelloms Mills says it's belonged to her great grandmother since 1912. She identified the cemetery's property address as 12553 Church Road. County records show that property is indeed owned by the Bradshaw estate. It also shows the property to owe more than $100,000 in back taxes. Mills says disagreements with other descendants may have led to ownership confusion.

"I just let it go," she said about the dispute. " I could have paid the taxes, and now look what the conditions we were in."

County records show the same property is also listed as 0 Church Road. It is owned by someone else, and it is up for sale.

"You didn't send anyone out there to clear the land?" we asked Realtor Richard Williamson, who is marketing the property for sale.

"No, no, we don't do anything until we know who owns it," Williamson said.

Williamson says as far as he has been able to research, his client owns the land. Williamson also states that he has tried to research the cemetery's background but could not find any official records.

"We went to the city, HCAD, deed records, trying to find anything on that property," he said. Williamson says his client wants to protect any cemetery plots that can be identified.

The Bradshaw family admits back taxes and family disputes may have muddied property records. However, the bottom line is: There are graves here and nobody has the right to disturb the dead.

"I was born and raised out here, and it hurts me to my heart to know that my mother is there and her tombstone is there," says Nelloms Mills.

Officials at HCAD are researching the records at the request of Eyewitness News. We'll let you know if we get more information on who owns the property, and who may have tried to clear it.
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