Grave robbing has become an above-ground affair.
Gone are the days when enterprising thieves would dig up an old grave and pillage for gold teeth and rings. Today, it's mostly the bronze markers and flower vases that draw their attention.
Rising scrap metal prices, coupled with the lagging economy, have triggered a string of cemetery thefts both locally and across the nation.
"I can't think of anything lower," said David Evans, general manager for Valhalla Gardens of Memory in Belleville. "Nothing's worse than stealing from the dead."
But grave robbers beware: The authorities are getting wise. States are passing laws and police are cracking down.
In March, the Madison County Sheriff's Department arrested three people for stealing 40 vases from two Metro East cemeteries. The owner of a Granite City scrap recycling center turned them in.
What I don't think people understand is this--in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, for example, every single piece of metal that isn't welded down has been hauled to the massive scrap metal recycling plants. There is one on the Southwest side of Baltimore, in one of the poorest neighborhoods, and the flow of trucks in and out of it all day chokes the city and causes congestion as the metal scrap junkmen in their beat-up vehicles haul metal into the center all day long. The junkmen scour abandoned homes, open lots, construction sites--virtually any place where they might find something made out of metal.
If it's made out of metal, someone is going to break it off, peel it off, cut it off or unbolt it and take it to the recycling center. And it doesn't matter if it's indoors or outdoors--they're going to haul it to the center and recycle it for almost next to nothing.
It's a massive transfer of material wealth--items that can cost thousands to replace, like copper pipes or iron grates or material found in a cemetery--is being converted into dollars for a fraction of their original cost or their replacement cost.
All in the name of staying afloat in today's economy. Don't tell me we're not going to see hard times for a while--$4 a gallon gas is wiping people out left and right.