Recycling tombstones – crime syndicates now preying on graveyards

 Crime spares no-one‚ not even the dead.

Graveyards are being plundered by syndicates around the country who steal expensive tombstones‚ vases‚ and sculptures.

According to private investigator Mike Bolhuis the items are sold to “willing undertakers”. They often place orders for stones on the black market where they stand to benefit from a massive mark-up and are very likely to get away with it.

Bolhuis said his organisation‚ Specialised Security Services‚ acts as a citizen police organisation. He has received a sharp increase in complaints from grieving families who have lost tombstones.

“It could be that you are buying a tombstone which belonged to someone else which has simply been clean cut and used again‚” said Bolhuis.

A Cape Town-based undertaker‚ who did not want to be named‚ said undertakers and municipal workers are involved in stealing and reselling tombstones.

“A lot of it is inside jobs. It’s people that work for the municipality that steal tombstones and resell them. People spend so much money on these tombstones‚ and these guys who put the tombstones in are stealing the very same tombstones they just put up and are reselling them‚” he said.

“I know guys who are involved in this. The boss told them which stones to take and they knew for a fact that those were stones that they had put up just a month prior to that.’’

He said that people are traumatised when they come back to find tombstones had been removed. It places financial strain on families who feel compelled to replace it because they fear they will be “haunted by ancestors”.

“Putting up a tombstone is part of the catharsis of trying to heal‚ doing what the deceased would have wanted the family to do and going through the tradition‚” said the undertaker.

“Now you come back and find this tombstone is gone and this grave has been desecrated‚ the whole meaning of putting a tombstone up has been violated.”

But Bolhuis says most of this type of theft is not even reported because relatives don’t visit graves after a few years or have moved to a different city or country.

“It’s shocking how many people don’t actually visit graves. People visit graves for the first three years and after that not anymore‚” he said.

“It’s shocking how many people don’t actually visit graves. People visit graves for the first three years and after that not anymore‚” he said.

He said that graveyard supervisors tipped syndicates off when new expensive grave stones go up. They turn a blind eye when the stones are stolen but are paid a “fee of course’’.

“Our advice, unfortunately, is that people must not leave anything valuable behind. People need to prepare themselves for the possibility that a tombstone will be stolen‚” said Bolhuis.

He said that securing the tombstone with concrete is an option but robbers would still break the stone off.

He said it is a nationwide phenomenon and is very difficult for police to investigate.

By Aron Hyman

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