Disturbing the Peace
The Morgan County Sheriff's Department has filed misdemeanor and felony charges against a man who did just that. Realtor and developer Ronnie Conner faces vandalism charges for disturbing gravesites on a piece of land he was developing.
In their investigation, the department solicited the help of geneologists Bill and Betty Williams, who catalogued over 150 cemeteries as a hobby.
"We retired on the first day of march in '93," said Bill Williams, "that was on Friday, and Monday morning we went to cemeteries and started cataloging [gravesites] here."
For the Sheriff's Department, the Williams' wealth of information proved invaluable as they investigated Conner's case. The Department asked the Williams to help them locate the site of the cemetery. /The site did not look the same as it did when they first saw it.
"The house was torn down," said Williams, "and the trees had been bulldozed off the property and cleared, but the foundation of the house was still there. So I started at the house and walked over east, and I said, 'The cemetery was right here.' And they said, 'Are you sure it's not over here in another place?' I said, 'Yeah, I know that it was here.'"
To confirm Williams's statements, the Department needed to bring in some outside help.
"We had the Missouri Department of Natural Resources come out and they used several different pieces of equipment to do some imaging of the ground, to see if there was in deed any disturbances in the ground, or what they called anomolies," said Detective Todd Wright. "Upon this, they gave us some areas of interest to check out, we used a backhoe to disturb the ground to confirm the presence of graves."
With the grave sites confirmed, the Department was prepared to file charges. Ronnie Conner is charged with vandalizing a private cemetery, institutional vandalism, and knowingly disturbing or destroying a marker or unmarked burial site.
Conner is currently out on bond, but could not be reached for comment.
Williams said that Connor did not know that the cemetery was on property he was developing, but knows that this designated area cannot be disturbed.
"You can't disturb cemeteries, once there's burials there, and particularly ones that have been set aside as cemeteries," said Williams.