Grave concern over missing remains after 1882 tombstone unearthed without its namesake in New Iberia

Iberia Parish

NEW IBERIA, La. (KLFY) — A local woman is asking where her relative’s remains are after a tombstone was unearthed in New Iberia but no corpse with it.

Meanwhile, the Rose Hill Cemetery says they’ve done all they can.

This disturbed grave has disturbed Lisa Hale Gallagher ever since.

Gallagher said, “It’s pretty much like burying my father all over again.”

For 13 years, she has been questioning if her father was buried in another relative’s grave.

Rose Hill Cemetery Operator Don Rutherford said even the Louisiana State Cemetery Board has heard her complaints concerning her father’s burial in 2008 and what was found in his final resting place.

Rutherford admitted, “The cemetery was aware that a headstone had been dug up when her father was buried. They checked, the contractors, for any remains or anything, and there was nothing located at that point and time.”

That worn tombstone appears to read William Walter Sorrels, a family name within the Hale family, and Gallagher said they kept extensive records of who they’ve buried,

She lamented, “To have your own relatives dug up, and then they place my father in a grave. I don’t even know what they did with my great-grandfather’s remains.”

News Ten’s Neale Zeringue questioned Don Rutherford over the phone asking, “You don’t think that her grandfather was buried there?”

Rutherford replied, “We have no records of it. I’m not saying he wasn’t. There was no remains found at that spot. I’ll put it that a way.”

So, would there be remains to find after 126 years of decomposition? News 10 reached out to J. Lynn Funkhouser M.A., a forensic anthropologist with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, for her expert opinion.

“You wouldn’t expect it to fully disappear after 126 years,” Professor Funkhouser asserted. “There’s should definitely be some evidence. That firstly the earth was moved to inter a person. There should be the potential for the recovery of accouterments associated with mortuary ceremonialism, a casket, anything interned with the body, the clothes they were wearing, buttons.”

126 years sounds like a long time to us, but from an archeological perspective it’s really not,” Funkhouser continued. “So it’s really possible the tombstone could have been moved.”

According to the cemetery, their limited records did not have the tombstone listed anywhere.

“I’m not saying that wasn’t,” Ruther stated. “Some records back in the 1800s weren’t kept well, but I can’t correct them any kind of way because we don’t have any records.”

That’s Gallagher’s second problem. She claims her family long ago bought additional plots, but the cemetery disputes it and is requiring deeds or receipts to prove it.

Gallagher said, “I told him (Rutherford) what if I can’t come up with the deeds. They said well we’ll just sell them again. Well, they didn’t say sell them again. They said we’ll just sell them.”

And all the turmoil is making it difficult for her and her family to rest in peace.

“To me when they found that headstone they should have stopped digging right away, knowing that their records were off, that they didn’t know who was buried where,
and when they found that headstone they should have stopped digging,” she said.

Rutherford concluded, “If there’s anything we could do about it, we would, but there’s nothing presented that we could do anything about.”

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