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Gean Morgan stands beside her husband's grave. She says Roselawn Memory Gardens also sold her a grave site later sold to Jesse Stover and occupied by Herman Stover. Neither Morgan nor the Stovers want to move the bodies of their loved ones.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Gean Morgan stands beside her husbandís grave. She says Roselawn Memory Gardens also sold her a grave site later sold to Jesse Stover and occupied by Herman Stover. Neither Morgan nor the Stovers want to move the bodies of their loved ones.

Grave situation
Cemetery's mistake leaves 2
families with deed to same plot

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com ∑ 340-2435

Gean Morgan's daily visits to her husband's grave have always filled her with the bittersweet emotions of grief and remembered happiness. Along with those emotions, she now must cope with anger.

One of the cemetery plots she bought at Roselawn Memory Gardens, adjacent to her husband's, holds the body of a stranger.

"I wake up every night with this on my mind," the 68-year-old said. Her husband, Johnny Morgan, died in January 2004. In Gean Morgan's mind, he has yet to be put to rest.

The day after her husband's death, the devastated wife met with a manager at Roselawn. She wanted three side-by-side plots. One was to be for her husband, one for her and one for another family member.

She has the deed. Lot 31; Block A; spaces 1, 2 and 3.

She placed a tombstone at the head of two plots and, eventually, a bench on the third one.

And then, on Dec. 10, 2005, she got the call.

One of her daughters, at the cemetery to pay respects, realized there was more activity at the gravesite than she expected. As she approached, she saw a graveside service in progress. She got closer.

Horrified, she realized the mourners circled one of the plots her mother owned. Cast to the side, she said, was the bench that had previously sat on the plot.

Attempt to stop service

The daughter called Morgan in a panic. Morgan headed to the cemetery, the graveside service still in progress, and appealed to the manager to stop everything. He, she said, declined.

"How about moving your dad?" the manager said to Morgan's daughter.

"My husband had been there nearly two years," recalls Morgan, eyes wet. "There's no way I was going to move him."

Nor was the other family, fresh with grief, willing to move the body of Herman Stover from Lot 31, Block A, space 3. They, too, had a deed for the space, as well as a deed for the space next to it. That one, they planned, would one day hold the body of his wife, Jesse Stover.

"I never would have dreamed of something like this," Morgan said. "You deal with the shock and the grief, but you think this part at least is taken care of."

Families file suits

Roselawn officials declined comment because the matter is in court, with lawsuits filed by both the Morgan and Stover families. Roselawn lawyers did not return calls. In a court document, they said the deed to space 3 was issued mistakenly "because Morgan only purchased and (Roselawn) only granted rights to spaces 1 and 2 in Lot No. 31."

Jesse Stover said she first heard there was a question about her ownership of the two plots during the graveside service, two days after her husband's sudden death on Dec. 8, 2005. Stover has three sons. Herman Stover, a World War II veteran, was the recipient of a Purple Heart.

Charles Langham, Jesse Stover's lawyer, said Roselawn initially assured her that she had clear title to her husband's plot. Only later did she discover that Morgan had a deed to the same grave site.

"They're both victims," said Langham. "This recordkeeping was negligent at best; at worst, it's a callous disregard for those who have already suffered a loss."

Langham said a lawyer for Roselawn's owner, Alderwood Alabama Inc., called him to say it would move Stover's body.

"He said we'll just move Mr. Stover and put him in another place," Langham recalled. "He said they made a mistake; they'd just move him and it would be fixed. But she does not want him moved. She's put him in his final resting place."

Morgan's lawyers, Phil Mitchell and Brent Burney, said cemeteries have a unique obligation when dealing with grief-stricken family members.

"The bottom-line is this was sloppiness," Mitchell said. "People trust funeral homes at the time of their greatest need. Roselawn failed her."

Morgan said when she bought the plots, Roselawn told her space 3 would never be used for anyone else because it was the last plot in that section of the cemetery. That is why, she said, Roselawn issued her a deed that included space 3.

"People think I'm crazy to be so upset about this," Morgan said. "I know he's not really there any more. That's just his body, not him."

She closes her eyes, inhales, tries to compose herself.

"But that's where I put him."

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