July 24, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Scrap metal thieves targeting cemeteries

Eastlawn Memory Gardens isn’t the only area cemetery victimized by scrap metal thieves.

Five days before a 300-pound bronze plaque with the names of 100 veterans was discovered stolen from the Brunswick cemetery, 33 bronze vases were reported taken from Hope Memorial Gardens on Center Road in Hinckley Township.

The empty space on the right side of the veterans monument in Brunswick’s Eastlawn Memory Gardens shows where thieves unbolted a plaque with the names of 100 veterans. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY LOREN GENSON)

Jeff Roberts, a trustee of Eastlawn Memory Gardens, on Grafton Road, said he was aware of the Hinckley theft when the plaque was stolen.

“We got a heads-up about the vases stolen right after it happened,” he said.

Roberts said the theft of metal items — usually bronze, copper or brass taken and resold to scrap yards — is a recent but growing problem.

“We never had any problems until the last couple years, when scrapping became a big thing,” Roberts said. “They’re taking whatever they can steal.”

Roberts said cemeteries are an easy target because they are unguarded at night and many memorials are crafted from metal.

The bronze plaque with the veterans’ names was unbolted from a “veterans court of honor” monument. In addition to the names of World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans, the monument included the names of those buried in the cemetery who served in peace time. The plaque is valued at $1,400 to $1,500 with each name engraving costing $120.

Roberts said he’s encouraged that most scrap yards and recycling businesses require a driver’s license for turning in metal scrap.

He hoped the cemetery may be able to recover the plaque, saying many Cleveland-area scrap recyclers are on the lookout for stolen items and report suspicious items to law enforcement.

“Scrap yards are making it a little harder for them,” Roberts said.

But Roberts said he feared the names likely will be pried off the plaque.

“It’s easier to scrap a blank plaque than one with veterans’ names on it,” he said.

Roberts said the thieves also cut the rope attached to the American flag on the pole at the monument. The flag will be flown while a replacement rope is sought, Roberts said he’s not sure what steps the cemetery will take next to combat the thieves. While a fence at the front entrance would close the cemetery to motor vehicles, Roberts said a fence around the entire cemetery wouldn’t keep out a determined thief.

“I think what we’re looking at now is installing surveillance, probably in some key locations,” he said.

For veterans and their families, the thefts from the cemeteries are especially painful.

“When people do things like that, they don’t take into consideration who they’re hurting,” said Thomas Chester, quartermaster of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9520 in Brunswick. “I’m a Vietnam veteran, and those aren’t just names to me. Those are represented by people who gave their lives to this country.”

Chester said his post often places copper stars on the gravesites of veterans in local cemeteries. Increasingly the stars are an easy target for metal thieves, he said.

Brunswick police said anyone with information on the theft of the plaque can call in tips anonymously to (330) 225-9111.

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.