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19th-Century Tombstones Returned
by Howard Roden
Staff Photos by Jason Fochtman

Sergeant Kelley Smith, with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, finishes preparing a stone base as Detective Keith Jones and Lt. David Moore set one of three stolen headstones from the 1800s that were returned to their resting place at County Line Cemetery. Investigators believe they were stolen for their unique design and white granite from the cemetery in San Jacinto County. “Whoever did this will have to pay for it someday,” said Lt. David Moore, with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

SAN JACINTO COUNTY – Atop the main entrance into County Line Cemetery is a sign that announces “Dear Ones at Rest.”

There was a sense of peace Wednesday morning when members of the Auto Theft Task Force returned three granite grave markers to their proper place in the cemetery.

Carolyn Dawson looks over the layout of the County Line Cemetery as three stolen headstones from the 1800s were returned to their resting places in County Line Cemetery Wednesday.

The County Line Cemetery is located behind the County Line Primitive Baptist Church (est. 1873). The vandalism was the first the cemetery has experienced, said Carolyn Dawson, the cemetery association’s secretary-treasurer.

Detective Keith Jones, with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, cleans a base of one of three headstones Wednesday.

The ATTF discovered the markers early Saturday when investigators delved through a storage shed on Cude Cemetery Road, near Lake Conroe in Montgomery County. Among the items believed stolen were a dually pickup truck, tools, an ATV, a utility trailer – and the three grave markers.

“It was a total surprise when we opened the storage shed and saw the markers,” said Sgt. Kelly Smith, of the ATTF. “At first, we thought they were props. But when we learned they were real, it was extremely heart-wrenching.”

While the confiscated vehicles and machinery are valued around $120,000, the value of the markers is priceless to the families of those interred in the cemetery, Dawson said.

“We are very appreciative of the effort by the ATTF to recover the markers,” she said.

ATTF members did more than locate the markers. They brought all three to their respective locations at the cemetery and reattached them using commercial bonding.

The reason for taking the headstones is unclear.

The suspect, Justin White, of Conroe, is in the Montgomery County Jail without bound, ATTF Director David Moore said.

White is charged with three counts of auto theft, a state jail felony, Smith said. A state jail felony has a punishable range of 180 days to two years, plus a possible fine up to $10,000. He has not yet been charged with any crimes related to the grave markers.

Sergeant Kelley Smith, with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and Detective Keith Jones move one of three headstones as Lt. David Moore looks on Wednesday. 

“Future charges are pending,” Smith said.

“He (White) is a federal parolee, and he’s not talking,” Moore said.

The search for the missing markers did not consume much time, thanks to the Internet. A secretary in the ATTF office tracked down grave markers through the website www.findagrave.com.

“It only took a couple of hours to get a match,” Moore said.

Although located in San Jacinto County – just east of Peach Creek – the cemetery has more than 900 interred with burial space for another 400, Dawson said.

The missing markers included Edney Dean (born Sept. 2 1850, and died Oct. 17, 1886), E.W. Thomas (born April 29, 1836, and died June 14, 1908) and Arthur L. Musgrove (born Nov. 6, 1881, and died Nov. 2, 1888).

Dawson speculated that Musgrove might have been a victim of a worldwide flu epidemic during that period.

The Courier
July 11, 2013

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