By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Richard Connelly
By Jeff Balke
By Casey Michel
By Craig Hlavaty
Olmos told Dowlearn he would move her mother so she was buried at Dowlearn's stepfather's feet, erect a red marble bench between the graves, and cover them both in granite slabs so grass won't grow on top of them. After three months of his promises not being fulfilled, she hired an attorney.
In an e-mail to state officials, Olmos wrote that Dowlearn's mother was "not buried equally in the oversized burial space." When asked about Dowlearn, Olmos says he is waiting to hear from her attorney.
Dowlearn wanted the matter to be resolved before March 22, which would have been her mother's 58th birthday. A week later, her attorney notified the cemetery that he has a petition ready to file alleging violations of the deceptive trade practices act, breach of contract and negligence.
"There was an agreement to move her mother such that she would be at the foot of her [step]father. Then they came back and told me that 'No, we're sorry, we can't,' " DeSerio says. "It seems to be quite a bit of confusion as to who's buried where and their own record-keeping seems to be suspect."
Five months after her mother's death, Dowlearn continues to pay the rent on her mother's house as well as the water, gas and electric bills. "Because she's not in heaven yet," she says. "She's stuck here because of the motherfuckers at the cemetery." She says her mother's spirit is trapped on earth because she hasn't been properly laid to rest.
Dowlearn's biological father died in January. She couldn't afford to bury him, and she didn't trust the cemetery to put him in the right place -- so she cremated him and keeps his ashes in a black shopping bag.
Cemetery officials told her they don't know who is buried in the grave beside her mother. Because she no longer trusts Olmos, she took a breaker bar and probed her stepfather's grave. When she stuck the rod into the ground, she didn't hit anything. "For eight years I've been putting flowers on an empty grave," she says.
The grass is thick and weedy over Rick Rojas's parents' graves. Theirs are the only two plots on the hill that haven't been mowed.
He and his sister and their six brothers filled out the next-of-kin paperwork to get a permit to exhume their parents. Flores says Olmos told her it would cost about $6,000. Her parents' funerals each cost nearly $8,000, and since she isn't working and barely has the money to pay rent and feed her two sons, she can't afford it.
Flores and her brothers still have several unanswered questions and concerns. For instance, Rojas says his father was buried six feet under -- but his mother's grave is only 18 inches deep. "Is there somebody underneath my mom?" Rojas asks. Probing their mother's grave with a coat hanger, they hit her coffin immediately, Rojas says, and his brother thinks he felt something beneath it.
Minor errors in the cemetery's paperwork concern them. On the cemetery's death certificate it says their father was buried seven hours before he died. Flores and her brothers considered putting up a banner saying, "Are you sure your loved one is buried here?"
They spoke with a couple of attorneys but were told it would be hard to fight and harder to win. No one took the case. Flores doesn't really want to file a lawsuit. "I just want to make sure my parents are there," she says. "They told the news that I was confused and that I was crazy and I didn't know where my mom and dad were."
Flores says that when the cemetery approached her about a settlement, she said she would consider it only on the condition that they exhume her parents and move them to another cemetery. "I want them out of here," she says.
In an effort to shut her up, Flores says, Olmos offered her a job, three free plots and to pay full tuition to send her son to St. Thomas High School.
Olmos might have offered her some free plots, Vorpahl says, but she is adamant that Olmos most certainly did not offer to send Flores's son to private school or bribe her with a job. But the employment and education were discussed, Olmos says. "We were sharing," he says. They were talking casually about their faith and their lives (since much of his job entails counseling people who are grieving); since he graduated from St. Thomas, he mentioned that there are scholarships her kids could apply for -- that anyone can apply for. And as for the job, he said that since Flores said she was unemployed, and because she is bilingual, he mentioned that his cousin was looking for a receptionist and maybe she could fill out an application.
"We were speaking very candidly," he says. "I have never done anything that is not ethical."
Every morning when she drops her sons off at school Flores drives down the cemetery's sloping hill and parks her gold Ford F-150 in front of her parents' graves to make sure the plots remain undisturbed.
Her sons play baseball across the street at Moody Park. From the diamond, Flores can see her parents' graves. Every afternoon she stands by the fence and watches.
"I don't know if they're there," Flores says. "I just know that's where I left them."
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