• ‘We deserve better in death': Florida officials investigate vandalism at Edgewater cemetery

    By: Daralene Jones , James Tutten

    Updated:

    EDGEWATER, Fla. - 9 Investigates' questions about a cemetery have prompted a state investigation.

    Some of the graves at Oaklynn Cemetery have been desecrated, and some are hidden by overgrown grass and trees.

    Volunteers said it's mostly home to African-Americans who were once slaves and even veterans.


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    Oaklynn Cemetery sits on private land on Airport Road in Edgewater.

    WFTV investigative reporter Daralene Jones has been trying to find out why the owner has been allowed to let the site deteriorate. He said it's up to the families of those buried on his property to maintain the cemetery.

    The problem, we're told, is that some of thoes people have moved or died themselves.

    WFTV questioned the state for weeks, and within the last 24 hours, they emailed confirming they are investigating since we brought it to their attention.

    Linda Thomas and Faye Atlton have a thick binder detailing the history of Oaklynn Cemetery.

    “It's respect,” Thomas said. “You honor where people are buried, the veterans, a baby's buried out there.”

    Photos: Oaklynn Cemetery

    Both retired, they now volunteer a few days a month to clean and get a more accurate account of who is buried at the cemetery.

    Desecrated graves visible from the roads, trash and overgrown brush are normal here.

    “We do have to be very careful because we did pull out one palmetto piece, and a jawbone and a tooth fell out of the palmetto, so you can't just go in there with a big bulldozer,” Atlton said.

    Some of the skeletal remains they keep, including what they believe to be a partial skull, hoping archaeologists can help trace the historical roots.

    “Why? Why not? Who are we to not do something like this?” Thomas said. “It's history. It's a part of Edgewater's history. Embrace it.”

    The city confirmed its records show no city code violations ever.

    On top of what WFTV saw just this month, volunteers have pictures of the conditions dating back to 2013.

    The state said it can't force the owner to do anything because the cemetery is not licensed.

    It's one of 79 cemeteries in Florida with an exemption, protecting it from state regulations. 

    “Should the state step in? I wish the state would step in,” Atlton said.

    The owner, John Massey, would not agree to an on-camera interview.

    Inside an office trailer behind the cemetery, he runs operations for Massey Ranch Airpark, a coastal fly-in community, building homes within walking distance of the airport hangars and taxiways.

    Massey said it was never his intention to maintain the property when he inherited the land  from his late father.

    City records show he has never even filed a police report, though he said vandals desecrated some of the graves in search of material that could be pawned off.

    “We deserve better in death,” Thomas said. “We paid bought and paid for our land to be buried there. Whether we had a plaque or marble stone, for the love of God there's a moral issue to respect them."

    Volunteers are comforted in knowing the cemetery is not active. In other words, no one has been buried here since the '60s.

    The landowner said he would be in favor of relocating the graves, but he would need permission from all of the loved ones, and he wasn't clear about who would bare that expense.

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