Cemetery Mistake: Who’s buried in my grave?

FAYETTE COUNTY, Pa. — Click here for the latest on this story.

ORIGINAL STORY:

A cemetery mix-up left a Fayette County man shocked to find someone else buried in his grave.

“This is supposed to be my lot right here. This is where I was supposed to be buried, and Pam right here,” Don Teets told 11 Investigates, pointing to the graves at Normalville Cemetery.

Making matters worse, these weren’t just any plots. They were next to the grave of their son Jeffrey, who died unexpectedly at a young age. It gave the Teets comfort to purchase the two plots next to their son, intending to make that their final place of rest when they go.

“All we wanted to do was be by our son, that’s all,” Pam Teets said, tearing up and shaking her head.

The family says the cemetery sold that same plot twice, leaving them in a desperate situation and demanding the individual buried in the plot they purchased be moved. The longtime cemetery director refused, leaving them in a stalemate.

Watch the story above, as Channel 11′s Angie Moreschi goes in search of answers to find out what the cemetery plans to do to make this right.

Painful Loss

When the Teets purchased those grave plots at Normalville Cemetery, they were already dealing with the trauma of losing their son at a young age. At just 36 years old, Jeffrey Teets lost his life to an accidental overdose of pain pills.

“I miss him, I can tell you that,” Don Teets said, looking down at his son’s grave.

Jeffrey was the father of three young children. He loved motorcycles, the outdoors and family.

The thought of him being gone leaves his mother in tears.

“I cry and cry — cry myself to sleep at nighttime. It’s hard,” Pam said, fighting back tears.

They say purchasing the grave plots and knowing they could be next to Jeffrey for eternity helped to give them comfort.

“All we wanted to do was be by our son, that’s all,” Pam said, shaking her head.

The Teets showed 11 Investigates the deed they received when they purchased the two plots. It showed lot numbers 15 and 16, Row 2, Section 113, bought for $500 on Dec. 11, 2020, and was signed by all parties to the sale.

Shocking Discovery

A year later, when they came to visit Jeffrey’s grave, the last thing they expected was to find someone else buried in one of their plots.

“Pam was crying, down on her hands and knees, crying,” Don Teets remembered of the moment they made the discovery.

Distraught and upset, they contacted the longtime cemetery director, Don Bowser, but the Teets say he refused to make it right — even after they tried to show him the deed, proving they own the plots.

“He didn’t care, he didn’t care. He didn’t care one bit,” Don Teets said. “He didn’t even look at it. Just crumbled it up and throwed it back on the ground at us.”

Teets says they argued and he got nowhere, insisting the person buried in his plot be moved.

11 Investigates spoke to the family of Leonard Upton, who was buried in the Teets’ plot. His son, Tim Upton, said they, too, purchased that plot, but it was after the Teets did. Their family is also very upset at how the cemetery has handled the situation. He says they just want a peaceful resolution for everyone and are even agreeable to having their dad moved.

“As bad as it is, it’s not their (the Teets’) fault,” Tim Upton said. “We just want to know where dad is going be, so we can get a headstone.”

Forced to File Suit

With no resolution in sight, the Teets’ got an attorney who filed suit on their behalf for breach of contract. They had the backing of the Upton family, who joined them in the suit.

“I think it’s very serious,” attorney David Tamasy said. “The reason for the purchase was to be next to their son. It’s all quite tragic, for the other family as well, who had just buried their loved one.”

Tamasy says the saving grace for the Teets is that they have the quitclaim deed that proves they own the plot.

“They were very lucky they kept it. I don’t know whether we would be able to prove that otherwise, other than a ‘he-said, she-said’ testimony,” Tamasy said referring to the quitclaim deed.

Trying to get answers

11 investigates called longtime Normalville Cemetery director Don Bowser to find out what he plans to do about the situation. Bower said he couldn’t meet in person, but agreed to do an interview over the phone.

First, surprisingly, he told Channel 11′s Angie Moreschi the Teets did not buy the plot:

Bowser: No, they didn’t purchase that.

Angie: They showed me the deed that shows the two plots. How do you explain that?

Bowser: (silence for several seconds) According to my records, that was open.

Angie: Maybe your records are wrong?

Bowser: No, they’re not wrong. I have to see the deed.

11 Investigates offered to show Bowser the deed, but he didn’t take us up on it. Instead, he conceded he would make it right but did not explain how, leading to this exchange:

Bowser: It’s going to be taken care of.

Angie: How is it going be taken care of?

Bowser: I don’t want to tell you.

Angie: Why not?

Bowser: I’m going to meet with their attorney.

Angie: Are you going to move the person who’s there down? So they can have the two plots next to their son?

Bowser: No, we ain’t moving nobody.

Unfortunately, that is a problem. The other lots next to Jeffrey’s grave are already sold, so they were not available. The Teets are adamant that they want to be next to their son.

“No,” said Pam Teets. “I want (to be) beside my son and my husband,” when asked if she would be willing to take two other plots.

Waiting … to Rest in Peace

The Teets have a memorial to their son set up in the corner of their living room. It’s a reminder every day that he left them too soon.

“That was my son and I loved him. He was my baby,” Pam Teets said, tearfully.

Now, as the days drag on with no solution, Don Teets worries time could be short, just like it was for Jeffrey.

“I ain’t got very good health either. I could die today, then where am I going to be buried?”

The family says the only option that will give them peace is being laid to rest next to their son.

A possible resolution could be coming. The Teet’s attorney has talked with board members from Normalville Cemetery and an offer is on the table that may work. He says Mr. Bowser talked with the family that owns the plots next to the Teets’ son, and they have agreed to give up those plots and move to another area of the cemetery.

11 Investigates followed up with the Teets, and they tell us as long as they can get all the proper paperwork, they plan to accept the offer and move forward.

However, after other complaints about confusion over who owns plots at the cemetery, it might not end there.

The Fayette County District Attorney’s office is now investigating to determine if the cemetery has sold plots twice before and if there are any violations of the law.

Lesson for all consumers

Attorney Tamasy says there is a lesson to be learned here for all consumers when pre-purchasing burial plots — be sure you get that quitclaim deed whenever you purchase a plot.

“That quitclaim deed essentially says they have given you that land and it’s yours for the purpose of being able to be buried there some day,” he said.

Tamasy also recommends you get a receipt and keep it.

“It should have how much you paid for it, when you paid for it, as well as a description of what you paid for and the plot location.”

Issues with burial plot mix-ups happen more often than you might realize, but cemeteries usually discover the problem before an individual is buried. However, industry experts tell 11 Investigates that a reduction in the number of graveside services in recent years increases the risk for potential problems.

Disinterring a person after burial is a complicated process that requires a court order. So, it is always a good idea to go to a gravesite and confirm a plot location before any burial.

Where to file complaints

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office says they’ve had five complaints about plots being sold more than once since 2018, and three complaints about individuals being buried in the wrong plot.

In April of 2020, the attorney general’s office settled a complaint against Stonemore Burial Services for alleged deceptive business practices selling vaults at cemeteries the company owns.

In August of 2021, the attorney general’s office filed suit against a company known as Lifestone by Stefan, a headstone and memorial business, for violating Pennsylvania consumer protection laws. The suit alleges the business charged consumers for headstones that were never delivered or were delivered late, denied consumers full refunds when requested, and solicited consumers in misleading and dishonest ways.

If you’ve had an issue with a cemetery, you can file a complaint here with the attorney general’s office or by calling 800-441-2555. The Funeral Consumers Alliance also provides information about how and when to file a complaint against a cemetery or funeral home.