ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO (KPLR) - Some relief could be on the way for families whose loved ones are buried in a north St. Louis County cemetery. Attorney General Chris Koster is suing the owner of Oak Grove Cemetery for allowing it to fall into disrepair.
Neal Breitweiser has four generations buried at Oak Grove Cemetery, and regularly pays his respects. But he's been upset lately about the cemetery's poor conditions. Last Memorial Day, he mowed the grass himself, simply to see his relatives' headstones.
Tall, overgrown grass was just one complaint listed in the lawsuit against cemetery owner Marilyn Stanza. Koster says more than 45 family members complained to his office about "derelict and unsafe conditions throughout the cemetery grounds and mausoleum," many of which News 11 discovered during an investigation this past fall. An upset family member used a FlipCam to document conditions in the once-majestic mausoleum, from vandalism and theft, to mold and darkness.
Meanwhile, Stanza is devastated by the lawsuit. She didn't want to speak on camera because of the legal issues, but she did say there's a lot being done to fix the cemetery's conditions, especially in the mausoleum.
Steve Zwiesler's roofing company already repaired the mausoleum's roof and gutters, to prevent water leakage. Now, he's tackling the interior. "Anything up there you see that's peeling or missing, like the crown molding up there, that'll all get repaired," he says, "She's taking steps, and the place is going to look fantastic when we're done."
Joe Bindbeutel, Chief Counsel with the AG's Consumer Protection Division, says the point of this lawsuit is not punitive, and the court would not order Stanza to make unreasonable repairs.
Breitweiser hopes the lawsuit will restore the cemetery to a place he's proud to visit. He says, "If you have a business, and all these people have entrusted you with their families, their loved ones, to rest through eternity, you can't betray that trust."
Also mentioned in the lawsuit were exorbitant fees to disinter loved ones, allegedly 3 to 5 times the average rate. The attorney general's first order of business is allowing families to move loved ones' remains at a more reasonable price. Then, they'll address fixing up the grounds and mausoleum.