More than 100 bronze plaques stolen from Carson cemetery; second cemetery hit in area

Flowers on the ground by a columbarium.
Joe Rayford looks at a desecrated columbarium that holds his mother-in-law’s remains at Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery, recently targeted by vandals.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Water splashed Aisha Woods’ feet as she entered Lincoln Memorial Park Cemetery. It didn’t take long before she discovered a spewing faucet, running without a valve.

It wasn’t the only piece of metal missing from the 20-acre park in Carson.

On Jan. 11, vandals robbed Lincoln Memorial of more than 100 bronze plaques, including one donated by champion boxer Joe Louis in 1949, according to Woods, one of the volunteers who run the cemetery. It is the second cemetery thieves have recently targeted in the Carson-Compton area, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

“I was extremely pissed,” said Woods, who has been tending to the cemetery since the summer. “I was highly upset. I was hurt.”


Most of the plaques taken from Lincoln Memorial were in the mausoleum, a turquoise-painted structure located toward the middle of the cemetery. Woods said she became aware of the robbery as she circled through the park the morning of Jan. 12. She said the vandals had also attempted to saw off the plaque attached to a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

Woods said she believes the thieves returned one night later. She said that on Sunday she noticed fresh marks on Lincoln’s bust and an abandoned garden tool left near a pair of bushes. All possible evidence has been turned over to the Sheriff’s Department, Woods said.

Five days after the initial break-in, rectangle-shaped residue was left on the mausoleum walls where the plaques once hung. Families entering the park to visit their loved ones’ graves scanned the mausoleum for the missing plaques; others walked by the structure to observe the vandalism.

The estimated damage and cost of the missing plaques is upwards of $2 million, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

The incident hit an already struggling cemetery that, since late July, has been stewarded by volunteers after its owner John Michael Mintz canceled his operating license. The Times reported in August that Mintz, 74, had fallen ill in recent years and has not been responsive to further communication about the park.

As Lincoln Memorial Park’s owner surrendered his licensing, the cemetery is now abandoned. Volunteers have the gates open while officials wrangle over who will take over.

Aug. 18, 2023

Valerie Holyfield, another volunteer at Lincoln Memorial, said she’s devoted time to the cemetery because her two children are buried there. The latest incident, she said, left her “pretty hurt.”


“I lay them to rest there and would never have thought that in 2023 I would be faced with not walking to the cemetery to visit,” Holyfield said, referencing the time the cemetery was temporarily shut to the public last year. “And then, in 2024, this place where I lay them to rest would be violated.”

Holyfield and the rest of the Lincoln Memorial volunteers will host a community meeting Sunday to address the robbery and arrange future cleanups for the cemetery. Holyfield hopes to rally more help to assist with the cemetery, which still has an uncertain future over managerial duties.

“For someone to vandalize and steal the names of where your loved one is resting — it is just too much of a pill to even try to swallow,” Holyfield said. “Every day since it happened, I wake up in the middle of the night asking God to watch over the cemetery.”

A week before the incident at Lincoln Memorial, thieves targeted the adjacent Woodlawn Memorial Park.

On Jan. 5, Celestina Bishop, who owns and operates the 11-acre park in Compton, was driving near the cemetery when she noticed a door to an equipment shed was ajar.

When she attempted to enter the park to close the door, she noticed the gates had been cut open, and called the authorities.


“I was kind of scared to go into the property myself,” she said.

No suspects were found inside, but the next day, while exploring the grounds, Bishop found that dozens of headstones had been knocked over and smashed, the metal plaques stolen.

As of Jan. 9, Bishop had identified nearly 300 graves that had been vandalized; headstones on 92 in-ground graves had been knocked over and smashed and more than 200 plaques had been removed from mausoleum walls.

“And that’s only to [the letter] F,” Bishop said. “I have to get to the letter Z to tell you how many plaques off the wall were actually taken.”

The park, where Bishop took over operations in 2021, has more than 26,000 graves.

“I think the most devastating part is when I have to tell someone that their family headstone was vandalized,” Bishop said. “It’s like I’m telling them their family just died. I’m crying, I’m crying telling them about the headstones.”

Like Woods, Bishop believes the plaques were taken to be sold.

“I think whatever agency or company is buying this product, they need to be held accountable, too. Because as long as they pay these crooks for this type of material, they will continue to do the crime,” she added.

Bishop said she has brought in more security for the park, which she is paying for out of pocket.


“I’m overwhelmed but it’s the people right now I’m worried about,” she said.

Compton Mayor Emma Sharif condemned the thefts, adding that the city was working with law enforcement “to ensure justice for the affected families.”

“The recent occurrences of cemetery thefts are deeply troubling, and witnessing such blatant disrespect for sacred spaces is disheartening,” she said in a statement. “Attacks on our cemeteries are unacceptable, and I echo the community’s sentiment in finding these incidents appalling.”

The Sheriff’s Department will also investigate claims by residents that a third cemetery, the Angeles Abbey Memorial Park in Compton, also has been vandalized. An employee at Angeles Abbey declined to comment.

“The Sheriff’s Department is aware of the historic significance of these cemeteries and has dedicated the full resources of Major Crimes Bureau and Detective Division in an attempt to recover these priceless stolen items and apprehend and prosecute the involved suspects,” the agency said in a news release.

Lt. Vincent Ursini of the Sheriff’s Department Major Crimes Bureau said authorities have not yet identified suspects but are chasing leads and reviewing security footage.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when you’re in your final resting spot and you can’t even rest in peace without somebody smashing your tombstone to get the metal off,” he said.