Elsmere police investigating vandalism at historic Black cemetery

Posted at 10:35 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 17:20:41-05

ELSMERE, Ky. — Vandals toppled and defaced headstones in one of Northern Kentucky’s first historic Black cemeteries, according to Elsmere police.

Linda Wilson, who serves as president of the Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery Board, said she couldn't believe it when she heard the news earlier this month.

"I mean, why would you do something like that? What would cause you to do something like that?" she said in an interview with WCPO.

Crystal Madaris is the board's secretary and has numerous family members buried at Mary E. Smith. Her Great Aunt Mamie's headstone was one of those vandalized.

"I loved this woman. I loved her, and to see this was unbelievable," she said. "This was senseless, absolutely senseless, and it shouldn't have happened."

Vandals knocked over about 30 headstones and spray-painted anarchist symbols on signage at the cemetery's entrance in early December, according to an investigation by the Elsmere Police Department.

Det. Eric Higgins led the investigation and said they suspect the culprits to be teenagers or young adults, but he added that was not corroborated immediately by evidence.

He asked that anyone living near the cemetery who has surveillance cameras to check for any helpful images.

"Look at their DVRs and cameras and see if they can see anybody coming and going from here or this area," Higgins said. "It doesn't have to be the cemetery, and maybe we can get a lead that way."

The suspects spray-painted a capital A surrounded by a circle on the entrance of the cemetery and on some of the tombstones. The board members who run the cemetery believe the vandalism happened on at least two occasions between Dec. 1 and Dec. 7.

Vandals defaced the entrance of the Mary E. Smith Memorial Cemetery in early December. The cemetery is one of Northern Kentucky's first historic Black cemeteries.

In a statement, Elsmere City Administrator Matt Dowling questioned the use of anarchist symbols at the cemetery.

“The use of anarchist symbols in connection with vandalism in a historic Black cemetery doesn’t really make sense,” Dowling said. “Most anarchists usually are not racists, but instead believe in social equality and have a distrust of wealth, privilege, and government.”

Mayor Marty Lenof issued a statement condemning the vandalism.

“Regardless of whether this crime was perpetrated by a juvenile, anarchist, or racist, it has no place in the City of Elsmere. Our city has a long history as one of the most diverse communities in Northern Kentucky and this criminal act is not just an affront to people of color or those who have loved ones buried in this cemetery but to all people who live in our city,” Lenof said.

The cemetery, located at 1120 Martin Luther King Avenue, is operated by a volunteer board of directors. It was founded in 1950, making it one of the first Black cemeteries in Northern Kentucky.

Madaris said she will submit a claim to the insurance company to see if the cemetery’s policy will cover the vandalism.

The board also plans to look into whether Duke Energy can install more lights near the cemetery, Madaris said.

Maier said there are no witnesses, and police have not found any video footage of the event.

Anyone with information should call the Elsmere Police Department 859-342-7344.