JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Families with loved ones buried in the troubled Restlawn Memorial Park say they have new hope that over time, the dead will be able to rest in peace.
As many as 2,000 bodies may have been buried not in plots, but in what used to be a road.
Many families are hoping the new owner can correct the mistakes made by Southern Christian Charities.
"We're very glad to see there's new ownership because it now it seems like there's new hope," said Nadine Powell.
For the first time in decades, Powell said she and her 91-year-old mother-in-law, Annie Smith, are feeling optimistic about the cemetery. She said Smith purchased four plots in the 1970s, only to learn someone else had been buried in Smith's reserved grave.
"He said a metal stick that was stuck down in the grave, and he said, 'Ma'am, I'm sorry. Somebody is buried there,'" Powell said. "So we were very shocked to hear that."
Powell said even though the plot was paid in full and she was given a deed, the former owners gave her the runaround. She said she learned that those owners were a not-for-profit religious organization exempt from state laws.
"That was shocking because no one knew that," Powell said. "Most people think all cemeteries are under some regulation."
State officials advise that while choosing a cemetery for your loved one, find out who owns the property and inquire how they're regulated by the state. Some religious, municipal and even national cemeteries, don't fall under the state of Florida's purview.
Sharon Murphy found herself in the same situation following the death of her husband, Ron Murphy, in 2012. Four days after he died, the family went to check on his plot and learned someone else had been buried there, and her $7,000 in escrow was gone.
"They pretty much told us their hands were tied," she said. "We asked for the escrow account back. We asked for our funds and she said our funds are frozen and that I'd have to file a claim with the state."
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