Local News

Smithfield Cemetery Where Hollywood Legend Lies Vandalized

Posted March 10, 2006

— In a place that the bereaved hold sacred, they could not mourn in peace after vandals targeted the Sunset Cemetery in Johnston County overnight Thursday.

Eleanor Taylor's husband and her daughter, who died just last year, are buried there.

"I'm finally getting over that, now this," said Taylor. "I'm just at a loss for words."

Investigators say someone busted out lights, crushed flower pots and pushed over tombstones in a rampage. Almost 50 gravesites were hit.

Angie West's brother, Paul West, was a Johnston County sheriff's deputy. His final resting place is now in shambles.

"He got killed in the line of duty, and apparently people don't respect that," said West. "It's such a horrible thing for someone to do."

One of North Carolina most famous daughters, Ava Gardner, is buried in a family plot at Sunset. Her headstone was spared, but the directional signs to the gravesite were not.

"We get at least 10 visitors to the gravesite a day," said Ava Gardner Museum director Angela Lawson. "We want people to have a good impression of Johnston County when they come in."

Investigators had to work fast to stay ahead of the weather to lift the prints off the headstones. They will be sent to the State Bureau of Investigation crime lab to determine who vandalized the cemetery. Town leaders and the cemetery are thinking about installing security lights at the cemetery.

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