By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
By Ben DuBose
By Ben DuBose
By Sean Pendergast
Red flowers bloomed on Rick Rojas's father's grave at Hollywood Cemetery -- but he didn't know who had planted them. His father, Brigido Rojas, is buried on a sloping hill covered in clover and headstones with mostly Hispanic last names. A few yards from Little White Oak Bayou, there's a constant rushing noise because the cemetery is located on the I-45 feeder road.
Some graves have hand-carved crying angels; others are marked with pine cones and empty bottles of Bud Light. Rojas didn't erect a headstone over his father's grave because his mother didn't want to see her name carved in granite. "We granted her that wish," he says.
Last year, a week after Valentine's Day, Rojas was visiting his father's grave when he met a woman who demanded to know who had left balloons and roses on her husband's grave. Rojas said his sister, Patricia Flores, had placed them on their father's grave. The woman insisted that her husband was buried there. "She was adamant that it was him," Rojas says.
Their receipts and records showed that they had bought the same plot, Rojas says.
A Houston police officer, Rojas asked the cemetery to exhume the body. Even if the corpse was decayed, he could recognize his father because he had pinned one of his HPD badges to his dad's lapel; plus, since his father had lost both legs to diabetes, there would be fewer bones in the coffin.
"They didn't want to do it," Rojas says. "Their excuse was that as soon as they opened the casket a lawsuit was going to be filed. We didn't care about no lawsuit. We just wanted to make sure it was him buried there, not nobody else."
Rojas first became suspicious of the cemetery's record-keeping when his mother died. A cemetery worker got out a map and walked Rojas to the spot where his mother was going to be buried. "This is where your father's buried; we'll put your mother here right next to him," Rojas remembers his saying.
But they were across the cemetery, about 50 yards from his father's grave. "I said, 'I was at the funeral. I know damn well he wasn't here,' " Rojas says. Rojas argued with the man for a while, then took out his cell phone, called his brother and sister and told them to meet him at Dad's grave. When they arrived, his brother whistled at him, pointed to the ground and called, "Dad's over here!"
Rojas claims his father's grave was sold three times.
The Texas Funeral Commission has received half a dozen complaints from families who believe Hollywood Cemetery has resold plots, stacked graves or placed people in the wrong plot. One woman says a child was buried on top of her mother's grave. Another woman claims the cemetery buried someone in the plot she had bought for herself and then falsified maps to dupe her. Yet another woman alleges that the cemetery dug up her daughter and moved her to another grave without informing her.
Cemetery general manager Ariel Olmos says he is doing his best to resolve all grievances. "If there's ever a problem, we're available seven days a week. Just like a funeral home, we're there to assist these families," he says.
Flores says Olmos promised to personally drive to Austin and get a permit from the health department to exhume her father. But he never did.
"If I have to, I'll start digging up the damn hole myself," Flores says.
Texas Funeral Service Commissioner Chet Robbins has the authority only to regulate retail price lists at crematories and cemeteries. There are currently four bills in the Texas legislature that would give Robbins the power to make sure the right body is buried in the right grave.
"Our intent was to give him some more teeth in his regulatory capacity," says Representative Rick Noriega (D-Houston), who authored House Bill 603.
Robbins is essentially a sheriff without a gun: All he can do is write long letters on behalf of family members who believe their loved ones are buried in the wrong place, saying he wishes he could help but there isn't a law to back him. Chapter 711 of the Texas Health and Safety Code says records should be kept of each interment in a cemetery. "But it doesn't say who keeps that," says Steve Elkins, field services program administrator for the Bureau of Vital Statistics, a division of the Texas Department of Health. "I think it must be implied" that the cemetery does, he says.
The vaguely written statute doesn't carry a penalty for not keeping records and isn't enforced by the health department. "We really haven't considered that our responsibility to oversee that or enforce that," Elkins says. "Most people obey."
The Texas Department of Banking licenses perpetual care cemeteries such as Hollywood and conducts audits on these cemeteries to ensure trusts are properly maintained. They also make sure the book of interments is updated. "They need to know their inventory so they don't oversell," says Russell Reese, director of special audits with the Texas Department of Banking. Although the banking department licenses perpetual care cemeteries, it has authority only over Chapter 712 of the health and safety code, which doesn't specifically say perpetual care cemeteries have to keep records. "We've had very good success getting enforcement voluntarily," Reese says.
Two bills the legislature is considering, Senate Bill 278 and House Bill 1538, would transfer enforcement authority of the statute to the funeral service commissioner. "I would be able to ensure that we got the right person in the right grave," Robbins says. "If the cemetery operator is being deceitful, in these new bills, they're gonna be under our jurisdiction. I sure hope it passes."
One of Houston's oldest cemeteries, Hollywood was built 108 years ago to bury middle-class white Heights residents who bought headstones with hand-carved Bibles and lifelike daffodils. The demographics of both the neighborhood and the cemetery changed in the 1970s, when the freeway was constructed and lower-income housing was built along the east side of the cemetery, says Doug Milburn, author of Our Ancestors' Graves: Houston's Historic Cemeteries. "The barrio really borders the cemetery," Milburn says.
Located at I-45's North Main exit, the cemetery is across from McDonald's and Fiesta Pawn; it's divided into sections with names like Mossy Dell, Dawn Meadow, Sunset Lawn and Twilight Terrace.
The roads are horse-and-buggy narrow and the graves are filled with Civil War veterans and semi-famous locals.
"This cemetery was opened when they would bring them in on the back of a wagon," says manager Olmos. "It's history."
A white marble slab marks the grave of Houston's first librarian, Julia Ideson, and a four-foot granite monument is at the plot of Shinpei Mykawa, the man who introduced rice farming to Houston, then died under his thresher. The Texas Historical Commission erected a marker at the grave of Mollie Bailey, the "circus queen of the southwest." The marker is near other Bailey headstones, but there isn't one with her name on it.
On a cobblestone walkway behind the main office, past a ripe fig tree and the mausoleum, is a life-sized marble statue of a child looking up at the angel Gabriel. The limestone pedestal was taken from room 301 at Brackenridge Hall at the University of Texas -- the room where the school song "The Eyes of Texas" was co-written by Thomas C. Hall, an attorney who later owned the cemetery. Lyrics about not being able to escape the eyes of Texas until Gabriel blows his horn are inscribed on the back. "In a city of weirdness it's one of the places I always take tourists," says Milburn.
Olmos speaks in a soft, slow voice. He almost always sounds calm. He insists that he's not being "short or evasive," but he rarely answers questions directly. When asked who owns the cemetery, he says, "An individual." When asked if the cemetery's registered agent, Mike W. Graham Jr. (who did not respond to written requests for an interview), is the owner, Olmos simply repeats that the cemetery is owned by an individual.
Ten years ago, Olmos custom-made $10,000 suits for ZZ Top during the post-"Sharp Dressed Man" era. He says he also designed costumes for Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet, but both opera and ballet spokespeople say no one in either costume department remembers Olmos or has a record of him.
When ZZ Top switched to jeans and T-shirts, Olmos says, he left his family's tailoring business to work with children at the St. Vincent de Paul homeless shelter in Aldine and taught catechism classes in Kingwood before becoming the vice president of operations at Hollywood.
"It's a ministry," says the 38-year-old. "A corporeal work of mercy: You feed the hungry, you clothe the sick, you bury the dead."
He says he works seven days a week and hasn't taken a vacation day since he started in November 2000. The cemetery is like a rest stop, he says. People pull off I-45 to use the bathroom, make a phone call, get directions or grab a Coke from the soda machine.
When asked about allegations families have made that loved ones have been misburied, he just repeats that "it's very sacred" and "it's very serious." "We don't trivialize it," he says. "We don't laugh about it here in the office."
He won't comment on allegations made by individual families; he says he respects the families' privacy. "The only information that I am going to give is to the families," he says. "I'm here to help the families."
The cemetery's records are not available to the Houston Press, he says. "It's not show-and-tell," he says. "I'm not trying to sound sad or morbid, but there's no buried treasure."
The Funeral Service Commission has a 48-page file on Hollywood Cemetery. Last spring, Deputy Administrator of Enforcement Anne Cosper investigated the concerns of seven families; in her preliminary report she wrote that "families believed their loved ones were either buried in the wrong plot, buried on top of someone else's grave, or with someone else buried over the grave of their loved one."
The investigation was kicked off when a television reporter contacted the commissioner about Rojas and Irene Longoria believing their loved ones were in the same grave. The commissioner suggested they look in section 25b of the death certificate, where funeral directors list the section, block and lot in which the deceased is buried. But the funeral homes had marked "unknown" on both death certificates.
"On the surface, it seems that the funeral home had to know where the body was to be interred," Robbins wrote in a letter to state Senator Jon Lindsay. "How did they know when and where to stop the hearse and unload the casket of the decedent if they had no knowledge of the place of final disposition?"
The commissioner referred the other complaints to the Texas Department of Banking. In a referral letter to the banking department, the commission's investigator wrote that the cemetery's Porter & Hedges attorney, Jo Vorpahl, "assured me that Mr. Olmos misspoke when he said that the cemetery's records are not complete and in order."
The banking department basically acts like the Better Business Bureau, facilitating discussion and asking the cemetery to address and hopefully resolve concerns. "They do not have the burial records and they do not have the files," Olmos says. "They just bring something to our attention."
The cemetery's most recent audit conducted by the banking department, dated December 31, 2001, documented three operational concerns and two violations of Texas law -- one a repeat violation. According to the report, the cemetery's trust fund had a $3,000 overdraft and the cemetery had once again submitted an inaccurate annual statement of funds.
The examiner wrote that "Several violations of applicable law are in evidence and/or operating records are inadequately maintained. These operating and compliance weaknesses may have resulted in a material trust fund deficiency."
Hollywood was placed in a group of cemeteries that "require more than normal supervision to assure correction of deficiencies and preservation of trust funds."
On a spring Sunday morning three years ago, Gilberto Salazar ate a stack of Whataburger hotcakes then went to Hollywood Cemetery to visit his mother's grave, as he did every weekend.
But that morning -- two years after Bertha Torres Esperza's funeral -- he found her headstone tossed aside and another headstone, engraved with someone else's name, erected in its place.
His sister, Evelyn Fletcher, says she confronted cemetery officials several times to no avail, before hiring Houston attorney David Vallance. The former general manager of Hollywood Cemetery, Michael J. Terry, wrote Vallance a letter stating that not only was Fletcher's mother buried in the proper plot, but Fletcher herself was buried one space away.
Last June, cemetery employees stuck a pole into the ground and tapped on top of the vault enclosing the casket (because Houston's ground is moist, people often enclose coffins in solid cement vaults so they don't move in the mud) to determine which type of vault was buried below. "The probe is a metal device that allows us to understand where the outer burial container is in the gravesite," Olmos says. "It's not a means of identifying the body or anything like that."
The cemetery staff told Fletcher that they were able to determine that her mother's tiered-top vault was below. The problem with that answer, Vallance says, is that her mother was buried in a flat-topped concrete case. "Rather than answer questions, they raised questions," Vallance says.
In September, Vallance proposed that the cemetery exhume the coffin, possibly open it, and see if Fletcher's mother's heart bracelet was inside (since the body would most likely be unrecognizable). In case the visual check didn't satisfy his clients, Vallance suggested DNA testing.
"We're not asking for $1 million. We're asking for the cemetery to establish that her mother is buried in the plot she purchased," Vallance says. "It very well may be that they are not sure who is buried where. So they may have a substantial liability concern."
Since Fletcher isn't sure her mother is there, she doesn't want to dig up the grave herself because according to the Texas Health and Safety Code, desecrating a grave -- destroying or removing a body from a plot without permission -- is a third-degree felony. Even moving a gravestone or monument is a class C misdemeanor.
The cemetery's attorney says she is certain that the right body is in the right grave. "Ms. Fletcher's mother is buried exactly where she ought to be," Vorpahl says. "The cemetery confirmed that the person who is supposed to be in each space is in fact there. There is no error."
The cemetery agreed to disinter the body -- on the condition that if Fletcher's mother is indeed in the correct grave, Fletcher has to pay $900. "That's the low-end cost," Vorpahl says.
Dolores Gallegos celebrates holidays at the cemetery. Her grandmother was buried at Hollywood in 1940, and Gallegos grew up playing in the drainage ditch and spending special days with the dead. Her family owns ten plots there. According to a letter Gallegos wrote the funeral commission last spring, in October 2001 someone else was buried in the plot she bought for herself. She wrote that Olmos assured her that the trespassing corpse would be removed immediately. A couple of weeks later, Olmos asked that she meet with him, because the area had been remeasured and he said there were inaccuracies as to the space numbers.
Olmos wrote an e-mail to the funeral commission's investigator saying that "the platted map for this area is difficult to distinguish" and it was hard to tell if the deceased was buried in Gallegos's space or if she was buried in an available space that was between the plots Gallegos owned.
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.
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.
Juan Garcia's father, Juan Escabado, died in 1947 when Garcia was seven years old. There was never a marker or a headstone on his grave. Three years ago, when Garcia's mother died, Juan Garcia found his father's death certificate among her possessions and took it to Hollywood Cemetery intending to erect a headstone. He says the manager pulled a dusty book out of the back vault and found Juan Escabado's name on the yellowed pages -- but the man said he was too busy to take Garcia to the grave. "He didn't have no time," he says.
Whenever he visits his brother's grave he asks the office for help finding his father.
"For three years I have gone back, and I still haven't found where he's at," says 68-year-old Garcia, who is active in the Texas Korean War Veterans Association. "They never showed me."
He's convinced that his father's grave has been resold to somebody else. Garcia canvasses the bayou, passing grassy graves and broken headstones, hoping to find his father. "I'm always looking," Garcia says.
Olmos insists that he doesn't know who Garcia is.
"There's lots of Juan Garcias in the city," Olmos says.
On an early April afternoon, Garcia once again took his father's death certificate to the cemetery office. He asked Olmos to help him find his father's grave. "He said he had to look it up and it would take some time," Garcia says.
Garcia says Olmos disappeared for 20 minutes. When he returned, Garcia says, Olmos told him there were five people named Juan Escabado buried in the cemetery. Olmos took him to the grave of Juan G. Escabado and stuck a temporary marker in the ground.
"My dad didn't have no middle initial," Garcia says. "I bet you there's nobody there."
A rainstorm washed away the granite government-issued stone marking the grave of Sally Tapia's father, World War II veteran Private Domingo Tapia. "We found his headstone about 25 or 30 feet from where it was supposed to have been," says the 57-year-old retired bail bondsman clerk. She doesn't think the cemetery put it back in the right place.
About a year ago, Tapia says, a 12-year-old boy was buried partially on top of her mother's grave. She says the child's parents made a sandbox memorial for their son that covered a third of her mother's grave. "We fought and fought and called the [cemetery office] and we never got any results," Tapia says.
Olmos says he doesn't know who Tapia is either. "The family has never approached us about a concern," he says.
Dolores Torres filed a lawsuit against Hollywood Cemetery in June, accusing its staff of moving her daughter's grave without her permission. According to the original petition filed in Tyler County, Torres's daughter Angela was buried at Hollywood 18 years before the cemetery exhumed the body and moved her to another grave. The suit accuses Hollywood of mishandling a corpse and exhuming and moving a body without prior notice or proper permission.
Hollywood Cemetery categorically denied every accusation. "We had authorization from another family member," Vorpahl says. Vorpahl says that according to notes in her file, the deceased's sister told someone in the cemetery office that she wanted her family's graves to be together. "We told the sister we would move her sister for free to another area where they could have contiguous plots, and she agreed to that," Vorpahl says.
The issue at hand, Vorpahl says, is whether the sister had the authority to make the decision. She says she doesn't know if the mother agreed to having her daughter moved or if she was informed prior to the move.
"I'm confident that the person at Hollywood Cemetery thought they were dealing with the right person," Vorpahl says. "Nobody's just going to go be a jerk and go move someone just to be mean and to cause a mother grief."
The case was settled last month by the cemetery's insurance carrier. Nancy Laha Clark, the attorney representing Hollywood's insurance company, said there is a confidentiality agreement regarding the settlement so she could not say if there was any truth to the allegations.
Joyce Regian's last wish was to be buried at her ex-husband's feet.
Her daughter, Wanda Dowlearn, bought three plots at Hollywood Cemetery. Because her mother weighed more than 400 pounds, she needed two plots for the oversized casket. She bought a third plot so she could be buried at her mother's feet.
The day after her mother's mid- October funeral, Dowlearn discovered that her mother wasn't buried in the plots she had purchased. Instead of being buried beneath her ex-husband's grave, Regian was buried catercorner.
"There's three fucking graves I bought, and they didn't get her in one of them," Dowlearn says.
She told cemetery officials to move her mother immediately before friends or relatives discovered that she had broken the last promise she made to her mother. Dowlearn says cemetery officials said they would be happy to move the flowers and the headstone -- that way no one would ever know.
She refused that offer, called HPD and filed a report.
Dowlearn says Olmos repeatedly acknowledged the cemetery's error and told her it had happened before. Olmos recently told her Houston attorney, Gary DeSerio, that he cannot move her mother to the plot the cemetery sold her because someone else was buried there in 1991. She can't keep her mother in the grave she is buried in because it belongs to the wife of the man buried at the foot of her mother's grave. (And, since there is already someone buried beneath her mother, now Wanda Dowlearn can't be buried at her mother's feet.)
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."