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Questions loom over historic cemetery’s future following desecration of graves

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Jun 18, 2024

ELKRIDGE, Md. — Human and pet graves were destroyed at a nearly 90-year-old cemetery. And the group maintaining the sacred site believes it’s only the start of its demise.

Thousands of pets and dozens of humans are reportedly buried at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park in Elkridge. Family members purchased plots thinking it'd be their loved ones forever resting place, but it's unclear if that's the case with few answers from the companies tied to the land.

“I have Gražina, which means beauty. She's a Dalmatian. She died, got buried November 1979,” Milda Sermuksnis read from her notes. “I have Zsa Zsa, a sheltie. September 1995. I have Fifi, a Sheltie.”

Sermuksnis spent thousands of dollars to give her five dogs a proper send-off.

“So you had a whole burial?” WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii asked Sermuksnis.
“Yeah, yeah. The casket and everything,” she replied.

Her purchase included a plot, grave marker, and memorial service at Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park.

“I just miss them!” Sermuksnis exclaimed.

And she was especially distraught after receiving a letter from the volunteer group managing and maintaining the historic cemetery.

On February 9, Candy Warden, president of the Rosa Bonheur Society, notified family members of the human exhumations that were carried out without families’ approvals. “The humans buried at the cemetery have protected the cemetery from development through the laws that apply to human burials. This desecration affects the sanctity and threatens the existence of our entire cemetery, which we have all been working to protect and preserve,” Warden wrote.

“This is an improvement over how it looked before,” Warden pointed out. She provided photos showing a giant mud pit, a torn-up area, and damaged tree. “So, we really don’t know if the bodies were fully exhumed or not, part of them may still be there,” said Warden.

The grave markers that were there are now piled up towards the back of the cemetery.

WMAR-2 News obtained a disinterment/reinterment request sent to the Howard County State’s Attorney’s Office with a list of names that matched the names on the grave markers that had been disturbed.

The request came from Naples Asset Recovery, LLC, and according to the notice, they contracted with a funeral care business in Rockville to relocate the remains. WMAR-2 News spoke to the owner of that funeral care business who said he canceled the contracts after they learned the LLC did not have the permission of the families to move the remains.

WMAR-2 News contacted the attorney representing Naples Asset Recovery, LLC., a Florida-based business. He did not have any comment and hasn’t yet responded to our email asking if the company was involved in the December incident.

“We know that there were lots of things dug up. We don't know what was dug up. We don't know exactly where it was put. But we know that the markers for those human remains were just scattered under a tree. And then a little later, all of a sudden, they appeared in a place that looked like a mass grave. I don't think this was done by a professional, which it needed to be done. So, that's a question,” said David Zinner, an advisory council member with the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight.

This question is among many others including who owns the cemetery.

“The cemetery has been in turmoil for the last 37 years,” Warden added.

Property records indicate Corridor Square, LLC owns the land. The resident agent is an attorney at a law firm. He didn't respond to our emails or calls so we turned to land records that show the LLC is managed by Mark Levy a local developer. By phone, Levy said the LLC only owns the surrounding land, but according to the Office of Cemetery Oversight, the LLC is currently working to submit paperwork to have the cemetery licensed.

“Once you're licensed, then you're covered by the regulations of the office,” said Zinner.

Zinner added that there are protections for human and, as of last October, pet cemeteries that would apply to Rosa Bonheur Memorial Park should the license be approved.

“Typically, cemeteries are not allowed to build on their land unless they ask permission to do something different,” Zinner said.

For the last 17 years, Warden said the Society has taken care of the historic cemetery and will continue to do so, but its future remains in limbo, creating conflict and uncertainty on what's to come.

“My concerns are that the thousands of people who have loved ones resting here will never find closure,” Warden said. “It's time for the cemetery to be in a safe place, to be taken care of in perpetuity like it's supposed to be.”

WMAR-2 News is still working to confirm who owns the cemetery and what their plans are. Sofastaii has learned the Office of Cemetery Oversight is actively working with the attorneys representing Corridor Square, LLC and the agency should have an update soon.

Click here to learn more about the Maryland Office of Cemetery Oversight or to file complaint.