News

Families fret following Oak Lawn cemetery arrest

Written by Lillian Reed/The Hanover Evening Sun | Jul 7, 2016 11:58 AM
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Joyce Gordon, of Hamiltonban Township, tries to tidy up a grave site Wednesday at Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens. Gordon was with her husband, Hamiltonban Township supervisor Bob Gordon, to see the condition of the cemetery for the first time. (Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun)

(Gettysburg) -- Brian Alexander remembers how his family waited more than a year to have his deceased father's name marker placed on his grave at Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens.

When police arrested former Oak Lawn owner James H. Delaney earlier this week for allegedly defrauding customers, Alexander pondered what would come next for the families who have prepaid for burial arrangements.

Cumberland Township police charged Delaney, 69, for theft and violation of Pennsylvania Burial Ground Law after he allegedly mishandled more than $1 million intended for prepaid funeral arrangements, according to an affidavit filed Tuesday.

Alexander wondered Wednesday whether his mother would ever receive her own name marker and vault for which she had already paid.

"Everything has been paid for, for 20 odd years," Alexander said while taking a break from clearing weeds around his father's grave. "Mom's been getting papers to fill out from state police."

The Alexander family is one of many in Adams County who have pre-purchased items from Delaney in advance of a loved one's burial.

So far, investigators have identified 689 alleged victims in the Oak Lawn case. The Cumberland Township Police Department and Adams County District Attorney's office began looking into operations at the cemetery after receiving a flood of hundreds of complaints in February.

At the time, crooked headstones, piles of soil and tire marks marred the cemetery, leaving many families upset and questioning their legal rights. Many said these property upkeep issues, which are not part of the charges filed against Delaney, manifested in the months after Delaney lost the cemetery in a sheriff's sale last year.

In the months that have followed the initial discovery of Oak Lawn's dilapidated condition, community members have banded together to clean up the property.

Some headstones still sat askew this week, and the piles of soil had sprouted sprigs of green grass and weeds. The lawn, however, appeared mowed, and many grave markers were decorated with little American flags.

Hamiltonban Township supervisor Bob Gordon took his wife, Joyce, to the cemetery Wednesday to show her the headway he made this week clearing a patch of the property. It took him two days, he said of his handiwork, but it was better than nothing at all.

"I'm glad of the arrest," Gordon said. "It's so sad. These people buy these lots and expect to be able to use them when their time comes."

The future for Oak Lawn, including its upkeep and customers' investments, is still hazy. For now, Gordon has been in contact with some government officials about trying to find landscaping companies willing to regularly mow sections of the property.

"The community volunteers are pitching in and trying to keep this place as presentable as possible, because it's quite a big area," he said. "It's a big job."

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Joyce Gordon looks down at a grave site that remains in disarray Wednesday at Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens. (Shane Dunlap, The Evening Sun)

This article comes to us through a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

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