ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KTVI) - They were promised eternal care for their loved ones. Now, families tell News11 they are angry and heartbroken over a cemetery and mausoleum’s run down state.
In this Fox Files investigation, Rebecca Roberts looks into the problems plaguing the Oak Grove Cemetery in north St. Louis County.
“Years ago, Oak Grove was the elite place, basically, to have your family members buried,” said Jim Day, who has been paying his respects at Oak Grove cemetery nearly his whole life. He comes to visit grandparents, along with his father, who died when Jim was just 9 years old. But lately, he’s been making these visits alone. “At this particular time, I won’t bring any children back over here. I don’t want them to see the condition it’s in now,” he lamented.
Upset Oak Grove families say the cemetery started going downhill within the last decade, after Marilyn Stanza took over operations from her ailing husband. His family founded the 65-acre cemetery in the 1920s.
Families say consistent problems include knee-deep weeds, large, dead trees and giant potholes that have caused the elderly to trip and fall.
Some can barely find their relatives’ headstones, while others can’t find headstones at all. Day explained, “They were bronze, we don’t know where they’ve gone to. No one can answer the question.”
The once-majestic mausoleum is on Missouri's list of endangered historic sites. Its plight remains hidden, since the building is locked. Only those with relatives inside can borrow a key from a groundskeeper.
Cemetery owner Marilyn Stanza showed News11 around the gilded, marbled treasure, that she says was modeled after Napoleon’s tomb.
Meanwhile, Day sees the mausoleum as an old treasure in a state of disrepair. He brought a FlipCam with him on a recent visit to document his concerns. He noticed water stains on the face of the marble, and nearby buckets catching dripping water.
The beautiful vaulted ceilings are marred by crumbling plaster, chipped paint and mold. Beneath those spoiled ceilings is a large animal trap and wet floors.
Theft also plagues the mausoleum. Stanza says copper has been stolen from the building’s exterior, not to mention two statues at the building’s entrance. She told News11 they were never found. “We understand they’d cost $175,000 a piece to replace them,” she added.
Inside the locked building, Day noticed a two and a half-foot urn missing. Stanza denies the theft. But missing statues might be hard to notice, since the lower level is pitch black. There are power problems. Day’s father’s crypt is only visible by flashlight.
Stanza hopes the mausoleum’s major issues will be fixed with a new roof. She explained, “The lawyer was able was able to get our emergency fund, which we’ve had since inception. That’s why we can do this. Plus, we’ve had a lot of families who have given us money.”
The contractor told News11 a new roof will stop the leaking. He also plans to spruce up the ceilings and moldings.
Day feels these repairs barely scratch the surface: “I have 10 grandchildren. I want to be able to bring every one of them here to say, this is where your family is. But it’s not. It’s not right.”
Day was told it would cost $10,000 to move his father’s body out of Oak Grove.
Dozens of upset families have complained to the state’s Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating. In June, the state placed Stanza’s cemetery license on probation for numerous financial violations, and improperly storing remains.