The Modern Day Grave Robber

Tyres screeching as a thief takes off with a funeral home vehicle is probably the last thing you would expect during a service. But this is exactly what happened at the Bearden Funeral Home in the United States earlier this month.

As mourners gathered inside to farewell their loved one, it is reported that the custom extended Chevrolet van used to transport flowers to the cemetery was stolen from behind the funeral home. The community is reeling that such an act could take place during such an important and sensitive moment, some calling it sad and desperate. The Funeral Home owner who is also the county’s coroner isn’t so shocked, saying he has also had porcelain ornaments stolen from the business, but the vehicle theft is certainly the first robbery of that caliber in his time.

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The van Bearden Funeral Home used to transport flowers to the cemetery following a service. Image courtesy of

Also using death as a way to benefit their own situation was a woman caught stealing bouquets of flowers from a grave in Adelaide on Mother’s Day. Caught red handed on camera with an armful of colourful blooms, she insisted she had bought them from the nearby train station.

As funeral directors, it’s nothing new to be accused of profiting from other people’s grief. I’ve even been trolled online condemning me for using death as a platform for my stories saying I am disrespectful, heartless and dense. What these people don’t realize is yes, while the Death biz certainly is a flourishing business, we wake each and every day to serve others and help the grieving through the darkest time of their lives. Many of us have tried other jobs but we always find our way back to the funeral home. It’s in our blood and there is no other job on earth we would rather do. These guys (and gals) thieving from the dead and their families are the ones disrespecting the deceased, and it’s sad to say that this is actually a very common occurrence.

Years ago as rain pelted down upon the cemetery, I found myself huddling beneath a small sheltered area with the operations manager awaiting the family to arrive for the burial of their loved one. The coffin hovered on the lowering device above the grave, the flower arrangement pretty against the backdrop of stormy sky. ‘They’ll be knocked off for sure,’ the cemetery grounds manager sighed.        ‘The flowers?’ I felt my brow furrow, looking up at him. ‘Sure,’ he shrugged. ‘It happens all the time. That’s one of the reasons we have closing hours and the big gates at front, but it never deters the thieves.’ New to the industry I stood there in shock, shaking my head as he continued… ‘The porcelain vases, toys, even alcohol. Some family members may leave a bottle of wine or beer on a grave, but it won’t stay there long. I’ve worked at a cemetery were almost a hundred grand worth of materials were stolen, the bronze plaques mostly. They resell the metal.’ I watched as the family began to arrive, the headlights streaming through the gravestones, pondering how awful it would be to pay respects to your loved one to find the headstone plaque or vase gone. Fast forward some time and nothing really shocks me anymore.

Thieves tend to target bronze plaques and vases to resell the metal.

In January this year a Cairns cemetery was targeted by the chilled hands of grave robbers, not only stealing expensive ornaments and vases but heartlessly vandalizing graves. One woman was devastated when she visited her father’s resting place to find a sentimental cross she had purchased overseas had been torn from the headstone. ‘The thing is, the cross was superglued there. They had to actually rip it off..’ she said. It was the second time thieves had damaged the grave. Another Cairns lady was horrified to find her late mother’s grave had been targeted. Everything was gone, including two butterflies the family’s children had put there. As well as stealing precious items, the culprits had gone through the grounds making a mess, dumping ornaments from one grave to another and throwing shrubs and branches about to make their mark. The neighbouring funeral home also had a trailer stolen and gardens damaged. They are currently updating their survellience system with improved lighting so these callous offenders can finally be caught.

Senior Sergeant inspects the scene at a Cairns cemetery where someone has driven over graves. Photo courtesy Stewart McLean and

It’s saddening also that some cemetery websites have included ‘How to stay safe when visiting’  precautions, warning visitors of potential theft from their vehicles while they are paying their respects to their deceased loved ones.

“While most people would think that others would respect the cemetery environment, unfortunately, some offenders see a cemetery as an ideal place to prey on distracted visitors” one cemetery writes. “Incidents or break-ins and the theft of property from vehicles are unfortunately not an isolated issue.”

The cemetery grounds then go on to provide a list of safety measures in order to keep belongings safe, including locking vehicles and reporting suspicious behavior.

To add to the growing list of reports, a distraught mother in the United States posted online that she lost her beautiful son only days after birth. He had been buried with her grandparents and the woman finds solace in handcrafting silk flowers for the graves. Following countless losses, the heartbroken mother laminates a note to include in the flowers, begging thieves to stop stealing her artwork. Her plead ignored, robbers continue to help themselves maliciously leaving behind the note.

So in conclusion, the next time you feel like lashing out at your lovely funeral director for charging too much for a casket, perhaps redirect your anger to the real villains. (Or pour a whiskey and meditate instead. Anger is bad for you).

We are here for you. We want to help you in any way we can. You can call upon us 24/7. And adhering to this, I would like to offer you one word of advice. Your loved one is forever alive with you in your heart. While placing symbolic items on their resting place may bring you solace and some sort of relief from the pain you are feeling, maybe create a place in your home for these items. Build a shrine of photos, flowers, candles and that bottle of wine. Visit their grave often most certainly, but it’s a sad fact in today’s society, nothing is safe even in the places you thought was reserved for peace and respect.

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