In the past five weeks, thieves have stolen more than 500 metal vases from graves, said Scott Sanderford, general director of Montlawn, off Wilmington Street. The thieves broke chains that hold the vases to headstones, he said.
"It's quite difficult to believe there are human beings out there that would actually come and steal from a grave of a deceased person," Sanderford said. "There was a grave for an infant that was 6 months old, and the vase had been stolen."
Jean Bailey said she found empty holes where bronze vases should stand at her uncle and aunt's graves.
"(I was) more shocked after walking around and seeing so many empty," Bailey said.
Investigators said thieves are likely taking the vases because they are partly made of copper. With copper going for $1.75 a pound, scrapyards might pay up to $20 for each vase.
"As one investigator told us, this seems to be an epidemic, not just in Raleigh but all over the United States," Sanderford said.
Investigators said thieves also stole nearly 100 bronze vases from Raleigh Memorial Park, off U.S. Highway 70, earlier in May.
Montlawn is offering a zinc replacement vase at no cost. However, due to rising copper prices, the cemetery must charge families for a new bronze vase, Sanderford said.
Bailey said she hopes the perpetrators will pay, too.
"Just a terrible thing to do, to steal off a grave," she said.
Maintenance crews have been instructed to keep an eye out after hours at Montlawn.
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