Sikeston cemetery controversy affecting many local families

Sikeston cemetery controversy affecting many local families
By: CJ Cassidy
SIKESTON, Mo. - It's a grave concern for a Sikeston couple, as they find themselves in the middle of a cemetery controversy. It now falls to city leaders to take on the responsibility of maintaining two cemeteries.
If someone dies in Sikeston in the next few days, and they don't already own a burial plot - it'll be up to a judge to figure out where the body can be buried.
Sikeston has three cemeteries - the one owned by the city has no plots for sale, and the other two - Memorial Park, and Garden of Memories have been abandoned by their owners. It's all adding up to a huge headache for city leaders and people who live there. "We came down looking at the graves and discovered that someone had been buried in one of the plots of ours," Glenn Greene says.
He and his wife Judy couldn't believe their eyes, when they realized a stranger had been buried in their family plot. "We didn't ask anyone to remove anybody. That wouldn't have been right - we did ask for our money back they won't talk to us," Greene says.
He's referring to Mike Graham and Associates - a Texas company that owned Memorial Park and Garden of Memories in Sikeston, as well as Forest Hills cemetery in Morley.
Greene still has a copy of the deed showing he paid almost five hundred dollars for the plot and a letter explaining the cemetery made an error, but now that Mike Graham and Associates have abandoned the cemeteries, Greene's not sure what will happen. "We said give us a title to another lot. They won't do that either - they've ignored us. We have our money invested and we get out of it is nothing," he says.
City Manager Doug Friend's also worried. The city's now stuck with maintenance and record keeping, but in the meantime - leaders can't authorize a burial here unless you already own a plot. "We are stepping in temporarily until someone can take over for the private sector and get back in business," Friend says.
It's something the Greenes hope happens soon. "Families are close, and we'd just like to have all the family buried close to each other," Greene says.
The Missouri Attorney General's office took action against Mike Graham and Associates two years ago for allegedly taking money for grave markers and never delivering them.
Now they say they've filed an order in court to have a custodian appointed to authorize burials at the two Sikeston cemeteries, but there's no telling how long it'll take.
Where will it all end?
That's what many Sikeston residents want to know as they wait to find out when a judge will authorize burials at two area cemeteries.
A Texas company - Mike Graham and Associates - abandoned two of the largest cemeteries in Sikeston, leaving city leaders to keep records and maintain the property.
Still without an owner - no one can sell burial plots and that's just one of the problems.

Many people are stepping up, saying the company cheated them and didn't deliver what they paid for. One woman says the company gives a whole new meaning to the phrase - grave robbing. "When I go, I'll be put beside my daughter," Eunice Campbell says.

She made plans to rest beside her loved ones a long time ago.
The 82-year-old has trouble getting around, but when she took us to memorial park to show us her burial plot, it wasn't just her physical difficulties that had her leaning on me for support.

Eunice already has a stone in place - but problem is, she may have to put up a fight before she ever thinks about attaining peace. "I wanted a vault," she says.

In fact both cemeteries owned by Mike Graham and Associates require some type of outer casket covering, so Eunice spent her hard earned money paying for a vault like this one, from the Texas company. "That's the only income I had was my social security and I put down payments on it," she says.

"This is the certificate of ownership. She bought and paid $1723 and it means nothing now," Funeral Director tom Nunnelee explains.

After finding out the company abandoned the cemeteries, and allegedly scammed dozens of others in Missouri two years ago, Eunice plans on buying another vault by cashing in her life insurance policies. "They seemed like they were so sincere had a good deal and everything," she says of company representatives.

Nunnelee worries about customers like Eunice who may have been robbed. "The public and funeral homes called and made complaints and let's just say finally when they get abandoned by owner, everyone jumps to get something done,' he says. "It made me so angry at first - I hurt so bad," Eunice says.

The Missouri Attorney General's Office continues their investigation into Mike Graham and Associates.
If you would like to call and voice your concerns, the number is (573) 751-3321.

So how can you protect yourself? Arrange for your needs through a licensed funeral home - they are more closely monitored than most cemeteries.