Funeral Industry News

Family Finds Mystery Woman Buried in Plot

August 27, 2009

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Family Finds Mystery Woman Buried in Plot

image A story of a family’s anguish: Coping with the death of a beloved mother was difficult enough, but it was made only more difficult when it came time for burial in a Mount Holly cemetery because the grave site that had already been purchased years in advance was already occupied. NewsChannel 36 I-Team reporter Rad Berky met with the family and set out to get some answers. “We knew how much they cared for one another. They wanted to be buried beside each other and I just think it’s wrong,” said Pauline Green.

Pauline Green and her brother Berry Nicks are at the grave of their father, Edgar Nicks. He was buried at the Hillcrest Gardens Cemetery in Mount Holly when he died in 1978.

A contract with the cemetery includes the purchase of the plot right next to Mr. Nicks. The plan was that his wife, Christine, would be buried there when she passed.

“So they had all those years together, they felt like they wanted to be buried together,” Green said.

Christine Nicks died in November of last year and what should have been a simple reunion in death at Hillcrest Gardens Cemetery went terribly wrong.

“We explained that someone had been wrongfully buried in the space,” said Bill Rhinehart, general manager of Hillcrest Gardens.

The family was told Edgar Nicks was indeed there, but there was a problem with the plot for Christine. And as it turned out, since September 1995, someone else had been buried there, sharing space with their father.”

Hillcrest Gardens is now owned by the SCI Company. General Manager Bill Rhinehart told NewsChannel 36 records showed the plot for Christine had been resold by the previous owners of the cemetery and a woman’s remains had been placed there, even though there was no grave marker to indicate that.

“I didn’t like the idea of the woman being buried beside my father because it just didn’t sound right,” Berry Nicks said.

Christine Nicks was eventually buried in another plot but the family still wanted answers. The family asked to see the paperwork indicating the original plot had been resold, but the name of the purchaser and the name of the dead woman had been covered over.

“It was whited out, wasn’t it?” asked NewsChannel 36 reporter Rad Berky.

“We whited … ah, no comment,” Rhinehart said.

Hillcrest offered to dig up Edgar Nicks and move his remains next to the new grave of Christine. The family, though, wanted the mystery woman moved and Christine put in her rightful place.

So they then turned to the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance for help.

President Mary Brack wrote a letter to Hillcrest Gardens saying it appeared SCI didn’t want to bother to try to find the family of the mystery woman and get an OK to move her.

We read a portion of Brack’s letter to manager Bill Rhinehart.

NewsChannel 36 to Rhinehart: “And she goes on, ‘This is a sign you were trying to fix the matter with little or no concern for the Nicks family.'”

“I can’t go into that.”

“Well, is that a fair statement?”


“What would be fair?”

“Out of respect for the privacy of both families involved, I cannot comment.”

SCI, or Service Corporation International, is one of the country’s largest funeral companies. In 2004, SCI settled for millions of dollars after 72 families claimed graves at the company’s Menorah Gardens Cemetery in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., had been opened and remains had been dumped in some nearby woods.

The company has been named in several other suits, including here in North Carolina.

Bill Rhinehart said there were no current lawsuits filed against Hillcrest Gardens.

“Not that I am aware of,” he said.

“Can I show you one?” reporter Rad Berky asked. “So, there is another lawsuit? You would acknowledge this is another lawsuit that names Hillcrest Gardens, and it is a mix-up over plots?”

“Yes, but I can’t comment on anything about anything,” Rhinehart said.

Hillcrest Gardens eventually located the family of the mystery woman and her grave has been relocated. Rhinehart says the cemetery is now willing to move Christine Nicks next to her husband.

The Nicks family though is not signing anymore paperwork. They feel they deserve something more.

“If they made a mistake, I think they should have to pay for it,” Berry Nicks said.

“That’s something that we would be glad to talk to the family about,” Rhinehart said.

And that is where it stands now. The family and Hillcrest Gardens talking about a possible settlement short of a lawsuit, and a husband and wife remain separated.

Bill Rhinehart says a system is now in place that would make it almost impossible for something like this to happen again.

We asked, “Is it possible there are people buried in plots where they shouldn’t be?”

“We certainly hope not and I don’t think so,” Rhinehart said.

Article By: Rad Berky, NewsChannel 36

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