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.
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.
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.