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'She's supposed to be right here': Weather, timing and headstones cause family strife

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 18:03:24-05

CINCINNATI — On Francis Spears' birthday, Feb 28, her family planned to gather at her grave to celebrate together, but as family arrived they found a freshly dug grave where Spears should have been and her headstone was gone.

Frances Spears' remains are still at Spring Grove Cemetery and they haven't been disturbed. They've lain in peace in the same spot for 11 years.

"Her headstone (was) thrown over here as (you) can see," Lashaun Williams, Spears' granddaughter said in a video recorded Monday afternoon. "She's supposed to be right here. Tell (me) what's going on?"

The birthday celebration was intended to honor a long tradition of celebrating Spears on her birthday while she was alive. It's a tradition the family has continued, by bringing flowers and gathering at her grave each year.

This year, their arrival alarmed and angered them.

"We thought we were at the wrong place," Elaine Spears Sowell, Frances' daughter, said. "What happened."

Explanations from cemetery staff only added confusion.

"I was still on the phone with them like 'hey, my (grand)mother's headstone is thrown here,'" Williams said. "It's a whole new burial. 'No. No. No. No, it's not. It's in the ground,' (staff) told me. They said we just purchased the headstone. Then, they said it rained all day Saturday and they just did a burial so the ground was real wet. Then, finally they said that they would put flowers on her grave and that they would get something situated in two days and that's not a headstone. It's a footstone. So I was confused."

Gary Freytag, president and chief executive officer for the cemetery explained with a diagram in an email explaining what happened.

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The photo highlights two areas above and below Spears' headstone. Above it lies Spears' remains. The cemetery never moved them and no one disturbed them, Freytag said. He added that the cemetery almost always places headstones at the foot of graves.

Below Spears' headstone is a fresh grave. Since the area lies on a slope and rain saturated the ground, staff feared Spears' grave marker would sink and be damaged. So, cemetery staff moved it temporariy.

"Unfortunately, the family came to visit the grave during that period and assumed the worst," Freytag said. "Dryer weather has allowed us to clean up the site and sod the newly dug grave. We pride ourselves on exceptional service and are terribly sorry that we were unable to replace the marker prior to the family’s visit. Cemeteries all face these kinds of issues. Performing burials in the middle of very damp weather exacerbates settling problems around newly dug areas. Our interment team did the best they could to preserve the site and the marker given the weather conditions. If we had tried to re-set the marker sooner, it likely would have settled too deeply and/or unevenly."

Freytag said cemetery officials have spoken to Spears' family members and explained the situation, but they plan to reach back out to clarify the situation further.

Spears' loved ones want more than better communication. They said they need proof that Frances Spears indeed rests in peace where she belongs.