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Cemetery Theft on the Decline


Grave robbers have been a constant curse of burial grounds for centuries. As attested by warnings against grave robbers on the walls of ancient Egyptian pyramids, stealing from the dead is a practice as old as civilization itself. Until recently, theft from cemeteries in most countries was not a major concern although it has always been present. Unfortunately, for anyone interested in genealogy and tracing their ancestors through cemeteries, cemetery theft became a big problem over a year ago.

As the global price of commodities such as copper spiked in the spring of 2008, grave robbers discovered that cemeteries were a fertile ground for theft. And, in an interesting twist on a very old problem, it was not what was below ground that interested modern grave robbers, but what was above the ground.

From a thief’s perspective, stealing from a cemetery is literally as easy as taking a walk in a park. Copper, brass and bronze are often in abundant supply in most cemeteries. Brass is an alloy primarily of copper with some zinc while bronze is primarily an alloy of copper with some tin. Both brass and bronze can easily be melted down to extract the copper.

Here is a partial list of a few of the things copper thieves steal from cemeteries:

• copper urns, including flower urns (even if they are bolted to headstones).
• copper roofing on buildings and mausoleums.
• building downspouts made of copper.
• brass location markers.
• bronze name plates on graves.
• bronze flag holders.
• bronze markers on veteran’s graves.
• bronze sculptures.
• brass lawn ornaments.

Fortunately, relief is in site. The global price of commodities such as copper has dropped as the global economy enters a deep recession. As reported in the US by the National Insurance Crime Bureau this week, insurance claims for commodity thefts of copper and other metals have decrease dramatically with the decrease in global commodity prices. Claims peaked in March 2008 when the price of copper was approximately $3,500 per ton. Claims fell to about ¼ of the peak level by the end of 2008 as copper prices collapsed to $1,500 per ton. Thefts from cemeteries also appear to have fallen concurrently with the decrease in insurance claims (in the US and Canada, most people can make claims for thefts from gravesites under their home insurance policy by claiming the loss as ‘other external property’).

In a global recession, the only business that seems to go up is crime. However, with the drop in global commodity prices, cemeteries have oddly enough benefited from the global recession because they are no longer the target of copper thieves. Cemeteries should also benefit in other ways from the global slowdown. As previously reported in From Doubledecker Buses to Doubledecker Graves, the drop in real estate values in the UK and other countries as well as the decrease in demand for grave burials (versus cremation, which is cheaper) due to the slowing economy will hopefully lessen the pressure on local governments to reuse grave space. Both are good news for genealogists searching for their ancestors.

More Genealogy Articles

Genealogy and the Economy

This article is part of a new ongoing series on genealogy and the economy. As the global economy goes into a deep recession, Genealogy in Time™ will continue to report on the impact the economy will have on the world of genealogy. Below are other articles in this series:

Why Are Newspapers Dying?
Waterford Wedgwood Emerges From Bankruptcy
Waterford Wedgwood Goes Bankrupt
From Doubledecker Buses to Doubledecker Graves