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Widow angered at cemetery thefts and baseball games

TOWNSEND — A Townsend woman has had more than her fill of people stealing things from the local cemetery, but she will not give in to the thieves.

This has been an ongoing problem for 32 years, said Atwood Acres resident Jane Fleet, but her determination just gets stronger. Both of her previous husbands are buried in the Highland Street Cemetery.

”I was brought up that if you left your most valuable possessions outside and came back 10 years later, they would still be there,” said Fleet. “But that’s not how some people think.”

Vandals have not only taken things from on top of the ground, she said, but have actually dug up perennial bushes and filled in the holes where the shrubs were stolen.

”I’ve had bushes, candles, statues, flowers and flags disappear from both of my husbands’ graves. How sick is that?” she asked.

It all began in the 1970s after her first husband passed away, she said, and vandals began taking the perpetual candles she placed on his grave site.

”The first time the candle was stolen the police caught some young men. One of the young men made a necklace out of the cross from the top of the candle and was wearing it. They were given a little community service to do,” she said.

Fleet replaced the candle and, again, it was stolen. Again, she reported the theft to the police.

”I was really steamed that the candle was gone again,” she said.

By 1977, Fleet said a total of three perpetual candles were taken, and her anger prompted her to speak to the Board of Selectmen about the problem.

”I remarried in 1977, and my second husband said something had to be done about this,” Fleet said. “I went to a selectmen’s meeting and they told me it was public property and nothing could be done.”

Fleet told the board the town may own the roads in the cemetery, but she had a deed to the lot so that was not public property. She then asked for the board’s help in stopping the looting.

She was referred to the Police Department.

”I told the police things were being stolen, and they said they would watch the area more often,” Fleet said.

Her problems continued after the death of her second husband in the 1990s.

”The stealing started on his grave site around Memorial Day weekend, four or five years ago,” she said.

Fleet and one of her six children were driving along spotted people hanging around in the cemetery, so they went in to have a look around.

”There were kids playing baseball in the cemetery,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘There are fields they can go to, they shouldn’t be playing ball in here.’ A cemetery is a sacred place which is the final resting place for loved ones.”

Later, she went to her second husband’s grave and something looked funny.

”Then I realized that the shrubs I planted were gone, and the holes in the ground were filled in with potting soil,” Fleet said. “I could not believe they actually dug the shrubs up and filled in the holes.”

She said she went to the police again to report the theft.

”I told the police I was surprised they didn’t try to steal the headstone, too, or the cement bench I placed there,” she said. “I got a nice letter from Lt. David Profit that said the police cars would spend more time in the cemeteries.”

Fleet has placed wind chimes and small statues at the grave sites, stating she would not give in to the people that continue to take her belongings.

”I know other elderly people that said they just stopped putting things at their loved ones’ graves, and I think that’s wrong,” said Fleet. “We should not let them get away with this; it’s just wrong.

”I have paid for perpetual care, and with the town cutting the cemetery workers, we don’t get what we paid for so we have to watch out for ourselves,” she said. “We all have the right to complain about this.”

Fleet said she feels people should just leave things alone that don’t belong to them, especially in a cemetery.

”There is no gray on this, just black and white,” she said. “I won’t give in to them, that’s all I can say.”

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