BARTOW, Fla. -- Bartow Police want to find whoever dug up an Army veteran’s grave, pried open the casket and removed clothes from the body.
- Veteran Willie Graham died in 1999 at age of 75
- Grave digger noticed vault broken on May 10
- Police currently have no motive for crime
"Everybody's pretty shaken up about it,” said Otto Brown, 75. "Evil people… I can't think of a motive for this to happen."
Brown said his brother-in-law, Willie Graham, died at the age of 75 and was laid to rest in 1999. Graham served in World War II and was a Polk County teacher.
“Mr. Graham was a veteran. He put his life on the line to protect this country,” said Brown. “To have someone go out and do that is very, very disturbing."
According to a police report, a grave digger noticed a gravesite vault had been broken and removed last Thursday, at 2 p.m., at Palm Cemetery, located at Van Fleet Dr. N. and Baker Ave. N., in Bartow.
An investigating officer noted the casket was partially open and rotten bottoms were on the ground near it. At the time, police were not able to locate any of Graham’s relatives.
On Sunday, Graham’s niece went to the cemetery to leave flowers at her mother’s gravesite and noticed a blue tarp covering Graham’s grave. She immediately contacted Graham’s sister, Hester Brown, 76, who lives in Mulberry.
"I can't figure who would do something like this after my brother had been dead for 19 years,” said Hester. "They removed the clothes that he was buried in. There were the under garments, the pants and the body wrap outside of the casket when we got there.”
Sergeant Eric Sherouse said investigators do not have a motive for the crime, and can only assume someone was looking for valuables. The family said Graham was not buried with any valuables.
"I don't know why they went looking for it. They should've looked somewhere else,” Hester said. “We didn't bury him with valuables."
Sherouse said no other gravesites in the cemetery have been disturbed -- there’s no trend in Polk County and it appears to be a random act. The family hopes the vandal is caught soon, so that Graham can rest in peace once again.
“I never knew him to have any enemies. I knew he was always helpful,” said Hester. “He'd do anything for anybody."
The family is working to get a permit to get Graham’s body exhumed and examined. They then will have a funeral service to re-inter the casket.