Dead Wrong

Relatives say Hollywood Cemetery sells the same plot over and over, stacks graves and buries people where they don t belong. And then forgets about them.

Gallegos wrote the commission that Olmos showed her a "new map" of the cemetery that had an additional grave drawn on it. She chronicled that the cemetery tossed dirt on the road in order to make it look like another grave was there. To further the illusion, she wrote, the cemetery took her family monument off its base and moved it a foot to the right.

"If this could happen to us, a family that has always kept close contact with our gravesites, what about those whose family members never visit?" she wrote state officials.

In an e-mail dated February 28, Olmos wrote to the Department of Banking that Gallegos's space was indeed "sold to an at-need family that already had loved ones buried next to" Gallegos's family. The family of the deceased refused to have her body moved, so Olmos wrote that his insurance company had advised him to offer Gallegos free plots.

Rick Rojas and Patricia Flores say their father's grave was sold three times.
Daniel Kramer
Rick Rojas and Patricia Flores say their father's grave was sold three times.
Evelyn Fletcher and Gilberto Salazar want their mother's body exhumed.
Daniel Kramer
Evelyn Fletcher and Gilberto Salazar want their mother's body exhumed.

According to Olmos's correspondence, Gallegos requested the attorney general investigate the matter. But when contacted by the Press, the attorney general's office had no record of any complaint, request or investigation.

Gallegos told the Press to talk to her attorney at John O'Quinn's office, who did not return repeated phone calls.

In May, Rebecca Gonzales placed a bouquet of silk sunflowers and multicolored roses in the vase on her father's headstone. Gonzales's 51-year-old father died in 1997. She found a dollar-store picket fence around the plot to the left of her father's grave, where she plans to eventually bury her mother. Gonzales tore the fence down, but the next time she visited it was back; Patricia Flores had left her brother's business card and a note asking that Gonzales please leave the fence because it marks her mother's grave.

Gonzales called Flores and told her that the plot was empty and belonged to her mother -- her mother's name is already engraved on the double headstone beside Gonzales's father. But there are only about three feet separating the top of Flores's mother's grave and the headstone.

"The way they had the grave markers set, a midget wouldn't even fit there," Rojas says.

Cemetery officials initially told Gonzales that the plot beside her father was not her mother's; they said they intended to bury her mother on top of her father's corpse. "We buried my dad real deep down -- they said my mom's supposed to be on top," Gonzales says. "They said you can bury people on top of people."

Officials then explained that her father was buried in the plot above where she thought he was -- but she insists that is her uncle's grave. "We have pictures from the day of the funeral," she says. When her uncle was buried, they moved her father's headstone so they could lower the casket, and they never put it back in its proper place, she says.

Her family's paperwork didn't match the cemetery's records, she says. "You could tell they Liquid Papered it. They went back and changed a lot of things," she says. "They don't know really where my dad is buried at."

She asked for his charcoal-colored coffin to be exhumed, but the cemetery told her she would have to pay for it, and like Fletcher, she didn't want to. Gonzales says the cemetery's attorney convinced her lawyer and one of her sisters that her father is buried in the proper place. "He's there," says her sister, Debbie Vasquez. "We just misjudged."

Olmos e-mailed the banking department that the matter was resolved. Still, Gonzales is convinced that the cemetery is lying to her. "I don't feel like my dad's there," she says.

Irene Longoria told Rojas and Flores that she planted red flowers on her husband's grave because she couldn't afford a headstone. The cemetery's graves are close together; she just gardened on the wrong grave, the cemetery's lawyer says. "It's very different than suburban cemeteries," Vorpahl says. "Things are tight. It's almost understandable that somebody could place flowers at the wrong place."

The cemetery told Flores that Longoria's husband, Pablo Longoria, was really buried next to their father. "They kept coming up with different excuses about what was wrong and why it was wrong," Rojas says.

Flores says the body buried beside her father was exhumed and moved to a new spot. "We don't know if it was Dad that was taken out," Flores says. The cemetery staff said they would call her so she could see if it was her father's silver-gray casket, but they didn't.

Notes made by the funeral commission's investigator say Longoria was offered six free plots. "Unfortunately," the investigator wrote, "at the time that Ms. Longoria buried her husband, she was sold two more plots right next to his grave but those were plots already being used by members of the Rojas family. This has only made matters worse as far as credibility with other families involved."

When contacted at the hair salon where she works, Longoria said she couldn't discuss the matter. "I have everything settled, so I cannot talk about it. I'm not allowed."

She said to call the cemetery, but all Olmos said was that it was very serious and very sacred.

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