Woman: Cemetery moved family's remains 'like they were a tulip bulb'

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Beth Johnson has climbed the small hills and walked among the shade-covered monuments of Forest Funeral Home in Olympia many times before.

Tears come easily here.

Now they flow because Johnson says her grandparents will never have their eternal rest. Orville and Louise Thompson were cremated and buried together.

They were moved from the ground together too.

"You know, I'm gonna cry," Johnson said as she wiped away new-fallen tears.

Earlier this spring, the cemetery moved the Thompsons and other cremated remains a number of feet, tearing them out and relocating them all in a clump on the other side of a large stone monument with images of Jesus and Bible quotations.

"She had chosen the spot that she had chosen, which was near the Bible under the Lord's Prayer," Johnson said.

It appears that no one from Forest Funeral Home bothered to tell Johnson or her family about the uprooting and relocation.

"They were torn out of the ground and moved like they were a tulip bulb," she said.

City: Cemetery violated property rules

The Problem Solvers learned that no one should have been buried there in the first place or moved.

Rich Hoey with Olympia Public Works said the cemetery has been violating property rules for years and potentially decades. The city has a massive water line going underneath the cemetery.

"It's conveying water that ultimately is fed to all points of the city and surrounding areas," Hoey said.

The Problem Solvers uncovered documents showing a signed easement from 1947 with the cemetery that requires the land above the pipe stay untouched.

Hoey said the easement was created to make sure the area above the pipeline was completely clear so if repairs had to be made, no remains needed to be disturbed. He said no monument should have been built and certainly no human remains should have been put anywhere along the easement.

Other records discovered by the Problem Solvers reveal even when the city discovered the easement violation and wrote a letter to the cemetery in August of 2011, it took nearly two years to get any action.

Brad Benfield's office with the Department of Licensing regulates the funeral industry and said the issue is the first of its kind.

"A lot of people would be surprised with how many laws there are that have to be complied with," Benfield said.

One of those laws involves notification. State rules say funeral homes must tell family members if remains are going to be moved. If they cannot find the family, they have to go to court to get it done.

Johnson said none of that happened and she filed a formal complaint with the state. "I don't think this was right. Why didn't we know this happened before it happened? Who was here to witness my grandparents being moved?" she asked.

Too difficult to notify everyone?

Records show Forest said it had obtained permission from at least two families, but in its response to the state, the cemetery gave no proof, documentation or even basic facts about how many families had been affected.

The cemetery wrote that it believed it had every right to refurbish the monument. The owners of Forest refused to speak with KOMO News, but told Johnson it was simply too complicated to get permission from everyone.

" 'There's just too many people involved. We'd have been on the phone forever if we have to call everybody,' " she remembers being told.

Benfield said the investigation into Johnson's complaint continues and findings should be available later in the year.

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