In a gruesome act, vandals broke into eight crypts at the abandoned Verdugo Hills Cemetery and exhumed the bodies, propping one corpse up against the crypt and shoving a cigarette in its mouth, Los Angeles police said Wednesday.
A volunteer caretaker who last visited the cemetery in October discovered the macabre scene Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s possible that this was a Halloween prank,” said Detective Jim Vojtecky of the LAPD’s Foothill Division. The vandals opened eight of the above-ground graves and pulled out seven caskets, leaving no fingerprints on any of the marble surfaces, Vojtecky said. There are no suspects.
The State Cemetery Board declined to take responsibility for the corpses, leaving the task of cleaning up the scene to the city of Los Angeles. The city and state board have long sparred over which agency should take responsibility for the former private cemetery, which opened in 1923 and was closed in 1976.
Police enlisted the help of Councilman Joel Wachs, who arranged for the eight bodies to be transported to a Tujunga mortuary. The councilman also directed a security guard to watch over the scene while repairs are made and the crumbling mausoleum is boarded up. It was not clear how the city will pay the mortuary costs.
Greg Nelson, press deputy for the councilman, said the city will ensure that the bodies are reinterred, but would prefer that the Cemetery Board take charge of the situation. Meanwhile, the mortuary is trying to locate family members of the exhumed bodies.
Since its closure, the cemetery has become a hangout for teenagers and vandals who have defaced graves and littered the grounds with trash and car parts.
In the 1970s the cemetery fell into disrepair, and state and local officials complained about its appearance and operation. It lost its license in 1976 and since then has experienced a series of bizarre pranks and natural disasters.
Heavy rains in 1978 sent corpses and coffins sliding down the hillside into neighbors’ yards, leaving 41 graves partially exposed. The city spent more than $200,000 to collect and store the corpses and build a retaining wall to prevent another landslide.
Even so, five bodies were exposed after heavy rains in February 1980.