Friday, February 2, 2007

47 Tombstones Found in Dead Man's Locker

A dead man's storage locker yielded dozens of tombstones, a macabre collection that police believe represents "a lifetime of stealing."

Some of the 47 gravestones date to the late 1800s; others are relatively recent. Police say they probably came from different cemeteries at different times.

The markers were found in the rented storage unit by the family of Clarence Horner, 54, after he died last year.

Police Chief Tom Casady said the tombstone collection "probably came from a lifetime of stealing headstones." Horner had a criminal record that included convictions for drunken driving and failing to appear at a hearing on a vandalism charge.

Two of the tombstones have been matched to graves.

Casady on Thursday found the mother named on a stone that said only: "Infant son of Charles & Janice Schmidt 1965."

Janice Schmidt of Clatonia, 25 miles south of Lincoln, said she and her husband had always thought of their stillborn baby as Michael Shawn Schmidt, so in 2000 they put in a new stone with the name.

She was shocked that the original gravestone had turned up in a storage unit.

"To think that it was stolen from wherever it was stolen from, you feel kind of hurt or violated," she said.

The second matched tombstone was a temporary marker for a Shelly Wright-Lair, who died Oct. 5, 1981. Someone from a Lincoln cemetery saw the marker on a police Web site and matched the name to cemetery records.

"We don't know how long it had been missing," police spokeswoman Katherine Finnell said, "but a larger one had been put back on the grave."

Authorities believe Horner died March 10. "He had been dead in his apartment for several weeks when maintenance found him, so I don't think he had much contact with family," Finnell said.