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mellisa smith tombstone
Sheriff's photo of Smith stone

Mystery of Three Oklahoma Tombstones Solved

By Dennis Muncrief
March 5, 2001

Three tombstones found along an Oklahoma highway were returned to their original location.

In April of 2000, I was in the Green Hill cemetery in Davis, Oklahoma doing a cemetery registry. This cemetery is quite large and has a full time sexton and cemetery maintenance crew. After a few days in the cemetery, the Sexton stopped by to see what was going on. I told him I was registering the cemetery. We began talking about different cemeteries that he wanted me to know about. He then asked me if I knew about the grave markers the Murray County Sheriff had locked up. I told him I didn't know about them and he suggested that I go to the Sheriff's office.

In 1998, the Murray County, Oklahoma Sheriff's office was notified by citizens that there were three tombstones laying in the ditch along U.S. Hwy 77 north of the community of Joy, OK. The Sheriff, Marvin McCracken, was most accommodating and wanted to get the tombstones out of his custody. The Sheriff said that they had run articles in the county newspapers and conducted interviews on regional TV asking for help. No information came forward. He asked me if there was anything I could do. The first thing I did was take photos of the stones. I then went to the online cemetery record websites such as Interment.net and ran the names through all the search engines. I searched all the Oklahoma OKGenWeb sites for cemeteries and their listings. I searched the LDS website for the names. I searched DAR listings. Not a clue.

jane tombstone
Sheriff's photo of Umphry stone

I then sent an email to Bill Spurlock of SavingGraves.com as I had know him for some time. He put an article on the website asking for help.. Still nothing, not a hint of where they went.

I finally had to start some intense detective work. Why were the stones left where they were? I figured that a bunch of kids had been out partying in a cemetery and had just enough beer to get brave enough to steal some tombstones. They probably got scared when they started to sober up and decided to dump them before they got caught. I went back and asked the Sheriff an odd question, "On which side of the highway were the stones found?" He called the Deputy that had taken the call, and he said they were found on the west side of the highway. They wanted to know why I asked. I told them "at least we know which direction they came FROM". Two miles north of Joy is the Garvin County line.

Brenda Choate is the Garvin County coordinator for the OKGenWeb project. She and I have shared information on occasion. I sent her an email about the stones and asked her for any assistance she could render as I was at my wits end. I told her that I though the stones may have come from an African American (AA) cemetery because one of the names on the stones was Richmond LOVE. I told her that all the people I ever met named Love were black. She started searching her records and emailed me in about a month that she indeed had a Richmond Love on her registry for the Bethlehem Cemetery in Pauls Valley, OK. The only problem was that this Richmond Love was 25 years younger than the one on the stone. His stone was still in place.

richmond love tombstone
Sheriff's photo of Love stone

I drove to Pauls Valley and looked at the Bethlehem Cemetery. It was indeed an AA cemetery. There was indeed several LOVE's buried in the cemetery and there was a Richmond Love, but, the ages were wrong. Brenda and I put our heads together and after several emails we decided that my Richmond Love must have been the father of the Richmond Love in the Bethlehem Cemetery. But I couldn't find a single tombstone base with a missing tombstone. So, the missing stone did not come from Bethlehem. It had to come from another AA cemetery in Garvin County. But Brenda had recently done the registries of all the cemeteries in Garvin County and there was not another Richmond Love.

After several more emails I discovered that the DAR had done the registries of all the WHITE cemeteries in Garvin county in 1972. They had not registered a single AA cemetery. By the time Brenda got to registering them, the theft had already occurred.

On Feb 11, 2001 Brenda emailed me saying that I needed to go to Hopewell Cemetery, a small AA cemetery four miles north of Wynnewood, OK (and 8 miles from where the stones were found) and take a good look around. I went the following Saturday in the rain and mud and found a tombstone base with the name LOVE carved into it. Next to it was a marker of a woman named LOVE with a birth date of 1859. Bingo! But that is not conclusive proof that they ALL came from this cemetery. I continued walking in the rain until I found a group of SMITH tombstones. I searched around the area and found another base with a missing tombstone. I then measured the "shadows" of the tombstones on the bases. The next Monday I returned to the Sheriffs office and measured the tombstones. They were identical in dimension.

Dennis with the Love stone returned to its original location.

On February 24th, 2001, Brenda Choate and I returned the three stolen tombstones to the Hopewell Cemetery to their rightful place. Sadly, the UMPHRY stone is not on it's rightful gravesite as there were several stones broken off at the base with missing stones. There were no other Umphrys in the cemetery in marked graves. We leaned the stone against a tree in hopes that a family member would re-place it. On March 1, 2001, I returned to the Sheriffs office to report that the stones were back in the rightful place. He was most grateful and relieved.

Those of you who say that there is nothing you can do, let this be a lesson in diligence and perseverance. It just became a cause. How can somebody steal a tombstone? Brenda and I could not just let this one pass. We did nothing heroic or exceptional. We spent a lot of time in cemeteries just looking around. We took a lot of drives in the country. We read many registries. We did not tell the newspapers or the TV stations of the return of the stones. Only we and the county sheriff know what happened. It took nearly 3 years, but they are home now.

- Dennis Muncrief

Dennis has recorded many of the cemeteries in and around Murray County, OK, and is the coordinator of the Murray County OKGenWeb. E-mail him at mudman@brightok.net

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