Even a final resting place isn’t safe from thieves.
Someone stole dozens of bronze flower vases from graves at a Flowery Branch cemetery to trade in the metal for cash, authorities said.
“Stealing is bad enough, but when you do it from a grave, that’s about as bad as it gets,” said Flowery Branch Police Chief Gerald Lanich. “You’ve sort of reached the bottom.”
Lanich said 61-year-old Jack Lamar Benson was arrested for allegedly selling 72 stolen vases to a Fullenwinder Road metals recycling business for $900. Benson, who operated a Sugar Hill business called “JJ Scrap Metals,” provided forged documents to Schnitzer Southeast which he claimed were from funeral homes stating he had bought the vases, which he had not, Lanich said.
Officials with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office are still trying to determine where the vases were stolen. Investigators believe they may have been stolen from a Lawrenceville cemetery.
The investigation started Dec. 2 after someone stole 54 vases from graves at Memorial Park South Cemetery off Falcon Parkway.
Memorial Park President of Operations Kevin Wetzel said someone targeted the “Garden of Apostle II” section of the cemetery overnight, taking the vases and leaving the flowers discarded at gravesides.
“It’s unfortunate that someone would do this, especially at Christmas time, when people are wanting to put flowers on their loved ones’ grave,” Wetzel said.
Wetzel said cemeteries in Gwinnett County and the metro Atlanta area have also had vases stolen recently. The vases cost about $150 each.
A check of local recycling businesses turned up the 72 stolen vases at Schnitzer’s Southeast, but they were not the vases stolen in Flowery Branch. Police said Schnitzer’s employees followed procedures correctly but were taken in by the forged papers.
Benson was arrested Dec. 9 and admitted to police that the vases were stolen, Lanich said. Benson told police he acted as a fence, buying the vases from thieves and using the forged paperwork to sell them to recyclers, Lanich said.
Lanich said police still don’t know what happened to the vases that were stolen from Memorial Park South. The thieves remain at large.
Wetzel said a security gate will be installed at Memorial Park’s Flowery Branch location to prevent other thefts. The funeral home’s larger cemetery in Gainesville already has gates that are locked at night, he said.
Benson remains in the Hall County jail on charges of theft by receiving and forgery, with bond set at $30,000.
Bryan Evans, president of the Georgia Funeral Directors Association, said the recent thefts are troubling.
“It’s preying on the dead,” Evans said. “Anytime you have someone who goes to those extremes, you’ve got a real problem.”