Nine freshly dug graves are stirring up some controversy and speculation after, what could be animals, are digging into the soft sand to reach the bodies.
One of the graves does have animal prints around it and an area with a hole going into the ground about a foot underneath a newly placed concrete vault.
Funeral director Doug Covell said he was at the Adams and Rogers Cemeteries looking at plots when he smelled an awful odor and saw what appeared to be part of a body bag sticking up out of the ground.
“I would never bury anyone in something other than a metal casket,” Covell said. “Animals got in and (the) graves weren’t deep enough.”
Funeral Director Alan Moore said he recently buried nine indigent veterans in the cemetery at his own cost. Moore told ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska that a rival funeral home accused him of not digging the graves deep enough, leaving them susceptible to animals.
Moore said the graves are 5 feet deep, to the water table, and that the corpses are all in body bags and encased in fiber board.
The cemetery is considered abandoned and there isn’t any one entity that owns the property.
According to Manatee County, “the County’s Offender Work Program does minimal grounds maintenance as a community service, but we are not responsible for the actual grave sites,” Information Outreach Manager Nicholas Azzara said.
“I’ve pieced together a few accounts about the situation out there and it sounds like one of the local funeral homes has repaired broken vaults,” Azzara said. “Manatee County Government repaired a single vault that was damaged by Hurricane Irma earlier this month, but nothing that was the result of animals digging in the area.”
In the past, the cemetery used to have a committee overseeing damage, debris, and use.
“There’s nobody saying you gotta do this you gotta do that,” Elouise Bacon said. Bacon used to be on a committee to protect the historic cemetery. Bacon, now 83, and retired worked for more than 20 years as the chairwoman of Manatee County’s Neglected Cemetery Task Force. Her mom, husband, and other family members are buried in the cemetery. She is sure there are a lot of shallow graves in the cemetery and she says animals digging into graves has always been a constant worry.
“You got some families that’s the last person that is buried so there is nobody to go out there,” Bacon said. “That was a human being... that’s a disgrace to see something like that.”
Moore said he was trying to do a good deed for veterans in need and it turned into him being accused of not digging deep enough graves. He said he’s called FWC about animals in the cemetery and also put smelling salts around the bodies to ward off any animals.