DELAWARE, Ohio (WCMH) — A central Ohio family says their parents were robbed of their final wishes when they were buried in the wrong plots at a Delaware County cemetery. The family said they were later told they had to pay to move their parents to the correct spots.
Annetta and Bee Slone were together for over 50 years, said their daughter, Reba Tomblin.
“They were best friends. They loved each other so much,” she said.
Tomblin said her parents always worked hard to make sure to take care of their two daughters and two sons.
“Dad was the type of person that whenever I would look for a job, he would say, ‘You have to have a job that has a 401(k), Reba. You have to take care. You have to take care of the future,’” Tomblin said. “That was how he was, and they planned for the future.”
In 1970, the Slones purchased their own burial plots at Fairview Memorial Park. The plots were between each of their parents and next to each other.
The Slones later purchased two more plots, roughly six sections from theirs, for their two sons.
The family’s plans unraveled when Annetta died in June 2020.
“The day of Mom’s funeral, we found out that the plots that they had both selected, that they wanted, in between their parents and their family, it was no longer available,” Tomblin said.
Bee watched as his wife was laid to rest about 50 yards away from her father and sisters, in a plot intended for her son.
“He was devastated,” Tomblin said.
Bee died six months later. Tomblin and her family made what she called a difficult choice to bury her father next to her mother, so they would not be apart.
The family later learned that the plots Annetta and Bee had bought for themselves were available, but the family would have to pay for the entire process of relocating their parents to the correct plots.
“I want them together, and I want them to be where they chose, where they want to be,” Tomblin said. “It’s very frustrating, and it’s very heartbreaking.”
“I understand completely where [Tomblin] is at,” said Tim Foor, who runs the cemetery, which is run by Berlin Township.
The township took control of Fairview Memorial Park in 2020, three years after previous owners Theodore and Arminda Martin were convicted on theft charges for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from families that paid for services they never received.
“We’re trying as hard as we can to make things right over there,” Foor said. “It’s just there’s a lot of wrongdoing that needs to be corrected.”
Foor showed WFXR’s sister station, WCMH, the cemetery’s records, which included a disorganized box of cards with burial information on them, and complaints from families handwritten on the back of some of the cards. Foor said that’s how he received the records, which he is in the process of entering into a computer program.
Because the records were so disorganized and in some cases, inaccurate, the township spent more than $25,000 on a ground-penetrating radar survey last summer.
The survey unearthed a long list of problems: people were buried beneath walkways, doubled up in plots, overlapping plots, and buried in areas that were never even meant to be plotted. Some graves were dug diagonally, and in one instance, a husband and wife were buried on opposite sides of a headstone instead of side by side.
Foor said he spoke with Tomblin about her family’s situation and he wants to help.
“I’m dealing with possibly —how many families we don’t know — that are buried in situations like this,” Foor said. “If we extend the courtesy to Mrs. Tomblin and move her family at the township’s expense, then suddenly, I have all these people coming down and [they’ll say] ‘Oh, you moved her family. Move ours, too.’ And the township just can’t handle that load.”
For estimates correcting burial issues in just one section of Fairview Memorial Park would cost roughly $250,000.
It’s why he’s been applying for grants from the state and working with Ohio lawmakers on legislation, like Senate Bill 224, which includes measures to help make sure peoples’ preneed funeral contracts are honored.
“It’s not a problem that you can isolate and make go away,” Foor said. “You’ve got to address it on a scale that it’s going to grow to if it continues to go the way that it’s going.”
Foor said Berlin Township is not selling plots at Fairview Memorial Park until all of the existing issues are sorted out.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get it all resolved,” he said.
Meanwhile, a headstone for Annetta and Bee sits in a warehouse, waiting to be placed in the right plot.
“We are still suffering. We are still here, and we want it done right,” Tomblin said.
Last year the township got a $13,000 grant from the state, which was used to repair things above ground.
As part of their criminal sentence, the cemetery’s former owners were ordered to pay more than $183,000 in restitution to dozens of families. According to court records, $60 has been paid, as the Martins remain in prison.