Stolen Vases – Modern Grave Robbers

Picture of a headstone where grave robbers have stolen the vase from top.

Have you ever gone to a cemetery and noticed that something was missing? Most people think that grave robbing is digging up a grave to take jewelry and money left with the deceased, but these days grave robbers have begun taking something much easier to get than items buried six feet under: bronze vases.

But why would people want to take them?

The most commonly understood reason for stealing cemetery vases is to sell them to scrap metal dealers for quick cash. Many cemetery vases are made of bronze and copper, valuable metals on the black market.

The people who steal these vases are drug addicts looking for a quick fix, or people so down on their luck that even robbing the dead is not below them. The thief, or thieves, will sometimes steal dozens of vases in a night, or even hundreds over a weekend. These vases can be sold to scrap metal yards for approximately $5-$15 a piece, which is a fraction of their original cost of $200 – $500 a piece.

But many cemeteries are fighting back against grave robbers and taking measures to prevent bronze vase theft, or at the very least to identify the vases if recovered.

Some cemeteries will etch the name of the cemetery and the name of the deceased onto the bottom of the vase so that it can be returned to its proper spot if recovered, and in some cases chains have been added to the vases that attach them to the headstone they belong with.

Bronze vase stolen from a grave site, leaving only a hole in the headstone.Certain cemeteries have gone as far as to hire security guards to patrol the grounds regularly, or have even questioned visitors to the cemetery regarding the theft.

While visiting a cemetery in Washington state earlier this year, I noticed a vehicle with a large “security” label parked near the mausoleum. When I asked, I was told by cemetery workers that this vehicle was parked there in response to recent theft and vandalism. This appeared to be strictly a visual deterrent as there were never actually any security guards around.

However, the most effective form of prevention has been simply utilizing vases that are made of materials that are less appealing to scrap metal dealers, and by extension, vase thieves.

You might be surprised at who else might have taken the vases home: the families. Some people have gone as far as to take home vases from the graves of their loved ones to prevent them from being stolen. And some people don’t buy vases, or want vases for their own graves because of their experiences with a stolen vase.

When a vase is stolen, it can feel like a part of your loved one is missing. I can only imagine how heartbreaking it is to walk up to a loved one’s grave with flowers in hand, only to find that there’s no longer a vase to put them in.

Picture of headstone vase made with new materials to deter grave robbers from stealing and selling the vase.Many cemeteries will not pay to replace the stolen vase, as it is considered personal property, meaning the deceased who no longer have living family members may lose their vase forever.

It has always been a dream of mine to start a non-profit to help people in need buy headstones for their loved ones. After learning about these thefts, I am also determined to help families replace the vases lost to these modern grave robbers.

These vases were meant to put flowers in, to show respect for the person buried there, not to be melted down and sold for pennies on the dollar.

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26 Responses to Stolen Vases – Modern Grave Robbers

  1. Anita says:

    Great post, this is a topic that I haven’t seen written about before.

    It’s painful to walk through a cemetery and suddenly see large amounts of vases missing from the headstones there and no matter how many times it’s happened I still haven’t gotten used to it.

    To think that someone went through and took each vase one by one…it’s hard to imagine what kind of rock bottom you’d have to hit to become a grave robber.

    I have no doubt that you’ll start that non-profit one day :) and I’m glad that you’re going to include help for families (or those who don’t have families) who have had vases stolen. Even if some of the families end up being able to pay for it themselves I think the fact that someone cares enough to try to help will go a long way in healing the hurt that comes from such a devastating theft.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hey Honey,

      I’ll be honest, when I first saw the missing vases I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t imagine that someone would have stolen them! I think some people justify it to themselves because they feel like they need the money more than the deceased needs the vase, but it is just sickening.

      Love,
      Jenn

  2. Gregory says:

    A deterrent would be for the scrap dealer, by law, cannot purchase them and they must report someone trying to sell a vase.

    • Jennifer says:

      I agree. I know in some areas they have imposed a waiting period, where the scrap dealer keeps the items but doesn’t pay you until a certain amount of time has passed (usually 3 days) to ensure that the items aren’t stolen. Sadly, this isn’t enough as a lot of thieves will just cut up the vases to make them unrecognizable.

  3. Penny says:

    I have had the experience of having a bronze vase stolen. Instead of replacing it with another bronze vase, and in turn encouraging the thief to steal it again, I replaced it with a vase made out of an alternative material. I used a ForeverSafe replacement vase in Antique, and by looking at it you would not know it wasn’t metal, but when you pick it up you can tell it is not metal. This vase has remained while many others from the cemetery have been stolen recently. I am very happy with the replacement vase and would encourage anyone with this problem to consider using ForeverSafe or something other than bronze again, because if they stole it once they will steal it again.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Penny,

      I am glad your replacement vase has been a positive experience for you. It seems like a lot of people are moving towards using vases made of a material less desirable to thieves, which I think is great. Especially since they can be just as beautiful, and serve the same purpose as the ones that keep getting stolen. I know that there are many companies that make these vases now, and I wonder if they will soon become the norm.

      Jenn

  4. Crystal Beth Long says:

    This really hits home with me as my brother-in-law
    (Who gave his life for our country at the age of 19; US Army Spc Braden J. Long on 7Aug2007) has had his stolen from the gravesite twice since his internment. How horrible & low is that of those stealing from a mere child who gave his life for us?!

    • Jennifer says:

      Hey Crystal,

      I am so sorry for the loss of your brother in law, and I very much appreciate his service to our country. I too can not believe that anyone would be so callous as to steal his vase (twice!). It is sad that we have to take extra steps (like chains or specially made vases) to try and prevent the loss of something so personal and meaningful.

      Jenn

  5. Rhonda says:

    I actually work in a cemetery that has these bronze markers, and yes we have had a number of vases stolen. One day I came to work on a Monday and my boss said we were robbed over the weekend. I said what happened he said go look out in the cemetery, they stolen a lot of vases. It looked like a war zone, they had taken the flowers out and threw them on the ground and took the vase. They had taken about 120 vases that week end, we called the police. I have older men and women coming in really crying because their vase is gone. I feel so bad for them. Some are old men and really miss their wife, they want to put flowers out, but can’t no vase. I wish I could catch these people.

    • Jenn says:

      Rhonda,

      It wasn’t until your comment that I realized that the thieves were taking the flowers out of the vases and throwing them. I know that it makes sense, but it just wasn’t something I could imagine any decent person would do. This is so sad. I hope that it soon becomes the norm to use the alternative material vases, to hopefully discourage thieves from this behavior forever.

      Jenn

  6. Gray says:

    Same thing happen to me this weekend. I went to visit my mother and notice her flowers I gave her 2 weeks ago were just thrown on the ground and when I got closer I notice that her Vase was gone. I looked next to my mom and that persons was still there. Then I started to see that someone had taken vases randomly . I was hurt and disappointed all at the same time. Who would do such a thing. My mom has been there for a couple of years now and this is the first. I called the cememtry and the person in the office said this is the first for her too she has been there for 2o yrs. She also said that its a national problem. I was told not to replace it but given other options. I am so upset not just for me but other families that have been victimized by this.

    • Jenn says:

      Hi Gray,

      I am sorry my response is so late. I am curious as to what other options the cemetery gave you for your vase? Were you able to utilize any of these options? I ask because it would be great to let other readers know what else is available to them out there.

      Jenn

  7. Jennifer says:

    I walked through a small cemetery to see my grandpa’s gravesite with my grandma, and seen many vases gone, including his!! It was very upsetting as we have not yet had his memorial and it’s not for 3 weeks, but no way can we afford to replace in and see it taken again!! Is their any suggestions on where to find one that will fit I believe 3″ without paying a lot?? Thanks

    • Jenn says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      I am so sorry to hear about your grandfathers vase. Do you know if the cemetery has reported the theft to the police? I know it can be very upsetting when this happens, I am just shocked that anyone would think it was okay to steal from our lost loved ones.

      There are special theft deterrent vases you can buy that are made of materials that are not desirable to the thieves, but they are a bit pricey. One option you have for now is to buy one of those plastic vases that stick in the ground, they are very inexpensive, and can be used temporarily until you have found the perfect replacement vase for your grandfather. They can be picked up at most dollar stores, and Amazon has a few that are very inexpensive.

      Take care,
      Jenn

  8. Stephanie Baker says:

    Hey Jennifer,
    I think its amazing what your trying to do. Sad as it is to say, TODAY marks the 14 years my 16 year old brother committed suicide. My mother goes religiously on this day to his grave to “visit” with him and decorate for fall/winter. Well this morning upon her arrival she noticed that he became a victim of this “grave robbing”, you speak of. It literally makes me sick to think people have to heart in this matter. There are grieving parents, children, loved ones who NEED that time with them, no matter how long its been to feel whole inside. And my heart breaks for my mother who is still so broken over the loss of my brother.

    I immediately came online to research the costs of a replacement but they are ridiculously priced and suggesting anything else to her is just “not acceptable”……. So with that being said,
    I hope someone steps up to help you in your venture. I know people like my mother, who spent her life savings on that headstone and vase, would feel so blessed and thankful for someone like you.

    Thank you,
    Stephanie Baker

    • Jenn says:

      Stephanie,

      I am so sorry for the loss of your brothers vase. I try to have compassion for the people who are so down on their luck, or so taken by addiction that they feel theft of a cemetery vase is the only option, but when I hear stories like yours it just breaks my heart and makes me angry that someone would do such a thing.

      I hope to research cemetery vases some more to find out what the most cost effective, and theft deterent vase on the market is. I know a few people have expressed interest in helping me with my goal of starting the non-profit, and with comments like yours I feel like there really is a need, and many people could be helped, and that gives me hope.

      Jenn

  9. Barrow Memorial says:

    We own and operate five perpetual care cemeteries in North Georgia and this is an ongoing issue at our locations. The dirtbags or crackheads that are stealing these vases will meet with karma one day. You are mistaken in your article where you wrote “Many cemeteries will not pay to replace the stolen vase, as it is considered personal property”. We ARE responsible for these vases and carry specific insurance to replace vases and markers that are either stolen or damaged. I can not imagine a cemetery that sells a product not stand behind their customer and do what is right by replacing these vases, because they do have insurance for those circumstances. If you have talked to a cemetery that said they do not replace stolen vases, you have talked to an unscrupulous business!

    • Jenn says:

      Hello Barrow Memorial,

      My statement that “many cemeteries will not pay to replace the stolen vase”, sadly, is correct. I appreciate that the cemeteries you operate are willing to replace the vases, but regretfully, not everyone is. Cemeteries and memorial parks around the U.S., and the world, all operate differently, and many of the cemeteries consider these vases to be personal property and will not assist in their replacement. You can see from the comments on this blog that it is a serious problem, and that the grieving loved ones are getting little, if any, help from the cemetery, and I find that very sad.

      Jenn

  10. Kathy says:

    This just happened to my husband and I today. His grandmother’s birthday was today and as soon as I got out of car I saw right away something was wrong. Flowers in hand I walked up to where the vase should have been and gone. It’s just gone. This vase was “anchored” with small chains but it is completely gone. I placed the flowers in the hole anyway but with a heavy heart. My husband is trying to look at both the possibilties of it being stolen or maybe the person who takes care of the lawn accidently hit or ran it over if it had fallen. I am not buying that logic at all and am actually really angry and sad.

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