Stolen headstone found, replaced

March 06, 1998


Staff Writer

LEITERSBURG - A tombstone was returned Thursday to its rightful place above the grave of a child who died more than 130 years ago.

The gravestone of the 3-year-old girl had been missing for several months. It was returned to the Jacobs Church Cemetery by a Frederick, Md., police officer.

A maintenance worker at an abandoned apartment on Monday found the tombstone of the child who died in 1862, and called the Frederick Police Department.


Officer Peter Baker said he searched for the headstone's owner for two days. On Wednesday, a clerk at the police department recognized the name of one of the apartment's former occupants from an unrelated stolen bank card report.

Baker said he tracked down the man, who led him to the graveyard on Thursday.

The weathered tombstone is one of the few still standing in the cemetery, which is just below the Pennsylvania border off Millers Church Road. Most of the other grave markers are chipped or smashed or have been knocked over. Several have been spray-painted.

Thick brush covers many of the markers, several plastic bags of trash rest on the side of the property and the occasional beer bottle and cigarette carton litter the ground.

"It's been through a lot of abuse through the years, you can tell," Baker said.

The stone itself, a small, white marker, marks the final resting spot of Julian Amelia Mentzer, daughter of D.M. and M.M. Mentzer. She died Dec. 14, 1862, at the age of 3 years, 5 months and 5 days.

The tombstone offers little explanation for her short life:

"Our sweet little Julia has gone,

To mansions of eternal bliss,

To gaze on the beautiful throne,

of Him who is seated on high."

Baker said the man told him he took the tombstone out of concern for its safety.

Linda Irvin-Craig, a genealogist and former Washington County Commissioner, said she heard a report of the gravestone on the radio and searched through her records because the name sounded familiar.

"I kept thinking, I need to look," she said. "I spend a lot of time with these cemetery records."

It turned out her memory was correct. Irvin-Craig's records indicated that the stone belonged in the Jacobs Church Cemetery and called police. By then, however, they, too, had solved the mystery.

The graveyard holds special meaning for Irvin-Craig, who was a county commissioner when the county dedicated a marker at the site in 1990.

"I don't particularly appreciate people vandalizing these cemeteries. I think that's particularly ghoulish," she said.

The cemetery has developed a reputation for the ghoulish over the years. A frequent spot for partying youths, rumors of devil worship spread.

When the county purchased the old church in 1990, officials tore down the crumbling building and put a brick cornerstone in its place.

But vandals soon desecrated the cornerstone and neighbors complained about rowdy behavior in the area.

In response, the county erected guardrails last year to prevent cars from parking on the property.

The church property "was a parking lot," said Commissioner James R. Wade, who lives less than a mile from the cemetery.

Since then things have improved, Wade said.

"It's 100 percent better than it was," he said.

The cornerstone has been defaced, its brick base spray-painted and its plaque stolen.

J. Theodore Wolford, superintendent of the Washington Country Department of Transportation, said county workers have repaired it several times but have since determined that it is futile.

Dick Keely, a neighbor who has complained about vandals for years, said the guardrails have prevented people from gathering.

"But it's 25 years too late," he said.

The cemetery dates back to 1791, when one of the area's first Lutheran congregations was chartered. The church eventually was abandoned and St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Leitersburg inherited the graveyard.

Church officials have said they do not have the money to maintain the grounds, and now there is little left to maintain. At one time, it had about 160 tombstones.

As for the man who took the Mentzer tombstone, Baker said police are still considering whether to charge him.

"Right now, I'm just happy it's back where it belongs," he said.

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