ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Largely untended for decades, the toppled and faded tombstones sit amid long, yellowed grass at All Saints cemetery overlooking Newfoundland’s spectacular Conception Bay.
But the historic graveyard has suddenly become the subject of much attention, after a bizarre crime that has shocked the easternmost province.
Shortly after midnight on April 6, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said they were called to Conception Bay South, after “quite old” skeletal remains were discovered on a nearby recreational trail.
They were traced back to this Anglican cemetery in the town of about 26,000 people about 20 minutes from St. John’s.
Police officers and staff from the medical examiner’s office were on site last weekend with heavy equipment, investigating the scene.
The province’s chief medical examiner, Dr. Nash Denic, said it is the first alleged grave robbery he’s seen in Newfoundland.
“Cases like this, this is the first time that I know of and I was involved in in Newfoundland,” Denic said in an interview.
A 20-year-old Conception Bay South man, Lucas Dawe, has been charged in connection with the case.
On Thursday, Dawe appeared briefly from jail via video link on charges of indecently interfering with human remains and possession of stolen property.
The case will return to court May 1, after the defence sought more time for disclosure of evidence. Dawe is also charged with failing to comply with a court order, stemming from earlier charges.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary have divulged few details, though sources have offered some lurid details to the local newspaper that have only intensified interest in the case.
Archdeacon Sam Rose, executive officer of the Anglican Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, said he was told by clergy at the All Saints parish that the remains were taken from a mausoleum-style tomb, with a concrete slab on top of the grave that would likely have been removed during the theft.
The parish has been shocked by the violation of a sacred resting place, he said.
“Certainly it was something that you could not dream of or imagine,” Rose said in an interview.
“When someone buries their loved one in a graveyard, there’s the assumption this will be their final resting place as we say in the liturgy, so when this happens in such a shocking violation of that sacred act, it was (shocking) for me, personally.”
Denic said living relatives of the deceased — who died sometime in the 1800s — have been contacted, and his office’s work on the case has now been concluded.
Once the police investigation is complete, Rose said there are plans for a re-internment of the remains and a re-consecration of the site, asking God to bless the holy ground of the cemetery after the incident.
While the community is in shock and waiting for more details to emerge, Rose said the church holds no ill will towards the alleged thief.
“The church is meant to be a forgiving community,” Rose said.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press