Records shows history of problems at three cemeteries, including misplacing bodies

Better Call Behnken

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A growing number of families are concerned about three Bay area cemeteries that are under state investigation for neglect concerns.

In addition, the cemeteries are in bankruptcy and under the control of a court-appointed trustee. Progress is slow for families who claim their concerns have been ignored for years.

The cemeteries in question are Royal Palm Cemetery South, Royal Palm Cemetery North in St. Petersburg, and Sarasota Memorial.

“This is ridiculous,” said Donna Saxer, whose family is buried at Royal Palm Cemetery South in St. Petersburg.

8 On Your Side’s Better Call Behnken became involved in May, after the family of Donna Maxwell asked for help. Maxwell died in March but her family soon discovered they could not bury her in her pre-paid gravesite beside her husband because another woman was already buried there.

Our investigation led to a state investigation by the Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services. A state inspector visited Royal Palm South and confirmed that the wrong person was placed in Maxwell’s gravesite.

However, Maxwell’s body is still in a mausoleum, and her family is devastated.

“I shouldn’t have to go through this,” said Maxwell’s mother, Florence Jenkins. “Her wish was to be buried by her husband. That is where she should be.”

Meanwhile, Saxer says the complaints date back several years. Families have complained about tire tracks over stones, code enforcement violations, such as a mausoleum cited unsafe and even bodies in the wrong graves.

In fact, in at least two other instances, bodies were placed in a site that was not the site they paid for, state inspection reports show.

Things are so dire that a federal judge appointed a trustee to manage the cemeteries, but court records show that only helped the man who runs the cemeteries, Clifford Work. He’s making a salary of $100,000 to run the day-to-day operations.

Saxer said she finds it offensive that Work is being paid a salary even though things are in turmoil and he won’t return calls from upset families.

“There are eight complaints now that are moving forward,” Saxer said. “Mine is one of those. They have 16 more that are in investigative stages.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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