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African American Cemeteries Forum

Anonymous tip leads to headstone location

RENO, Nev. — The original location of a 19th century headstone stolen more than 30 years ago was discovered Friday in a cemetery with the help of photographs dropped off by an unidentified person.

Historians pinpointed the original site of the marker for Mary A.L. Neville, who died in 1872 at the age of 33, in the Gold Hill Cemetery using photographs that the person dropped off last month.

The photos were dated 1974, which is believed to be the same year that a thief made off with the headstone as a souvenir, said Candace Wheeler, president of the nonprofit Comstock Cemetery Foundation.

The marker itself was abandoned outside the courthouse in nearby Virginia City in 1989 and had been in storage since the photos surfaced. The cemetery is about 25 miles southeast of Reno.

Wheeler said she believed the person was the latest in a long line of thieves who have returned stolen cemetery items because of guilty consciences.

``A woman from Oregon returned a headstone because she thought it was responsible for her divorce,'' she said. ``Others felt it was responsible for some curse.''

Bert Bedeau, administrator of the Comstock Historic District Commission, said he hoped the photos encourage others to return stolen souvenirs.

``I think somebody was cleaning up their garage and said `There's more stuff that needs to go back to the cemetery,''' Bedeau said.

Even though criminals have returned stolen headstones in the past, their original locations rarely can be determined because of a lack of records and maps, Wheeler said.

``Stuff like this almost never happens,'' she said. ``The photos were the breakthrough we needed to find the headstone's original location.''

Nevada cemeteries have been plagued by vandalism and theft for decades. A measure passed by state lawmakers in 2005 made such crimes a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

Wheeler said little was known about Neville other than she had a husband, Thomas. Her headstone features a weeping willow, a poem and splendid engraving, she said.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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