News7 In Depth


Families demand answers as search wraps up at Detroit's Gethsemane Cemetery

Posted at 9:39 PM, Jun 10, 2021

DETROIT (WXYZ) — It was another day of digging for evidence by the Detroit police at a city-owned cemetery where family of the deceased say there’s been an enormous amount of incompetence among management.

The city of Detroit is declining an interview with us to talk about problems at Gethsemane Cemetery, a property they both own, and have oversight responsibilities for.

“Our parents and loved ones are buried at Gethsemane and they’re not giving us info. They’re digging up graves,” one family told us.

“I am begging and pleading with you to come out and speak with us citizens, here to look for our loved ones,” said another.

“What if this happened to you? Feel our pain and where we’re coming from,” said a third.

They came to witness more digging up of graves at Gethsemane Cemetery on Detroit’s east side.

Numerous families, including some who’ve filed a civil lawsuit against the city and several management companies, are saying enough is enough.“We are getting contacted by folks each day, and we’re up to more than 50 people,” says attorney Linda Roelans.

Roelans is listed on a new lawsuit. She tells us the property owned by the city since the 90s continues to leave families heartbroken with a consistent pattern of mismanagement to this day.

When we called to request an interview from the city, they declined so we called the state of Michigan who told us the city not only owns the site but is obligated to oversee its own property.

An internal report dated June 2014 from the auditor general finds Detroit’s recreation department intentionally violated policies and went around city council oversight and they failed to obtain financial statements from contractors, and even worse, the recreation department lacked adequate controls over cash receipts.

Roelans says the report also shows one contracted management agency hiring another without council approval.

The state says as a municipality they have no authority over the city to investigate and so far, the city hasn’t said what if any consequences its own department could face with alleged ongoing issues.

Detroit police also report receiving complaints.

So far of the 19 graves investigated, 1 body was found and moved at the family’s request, 4 bodies were moved without a family’s knowledge and 14 bodies were found at the correct location.

The city has said they plan to hold the management companies they hired accountable in court and just hired another one.

We’ve also reached out to the various management companies for comment, the most recent telling us they worked to fix the issues that have existed for years.

The city has released the following statement to 7 Action News:

Due to the recent filing of a lawsuit regarding incidents prior to 2012, we cannot comment on those matters. The city also initiated litigation with the recent former vendor whose actions resulted in the unfortunate activities of this week at Gethsemane.

To ensure families have an accurate record of all individuals buried at Gethsemane, the City recently contracted with a new operating team that brings a long track record of excellence operating cemeteries like Gethsemane. Premier Group Associates (PGA), a Detroit-headquartered business, has partnered with L.F. Sloane Consulting Group, a fourth-generation national cemetery management company specialized in managing and maintaining historic cemeteries, both public and private.

This new team has been tasked with remapping the entire cemetery and creating an electronic database to better serve the family members whose loved ones are at Gethsemane. They will also reconcile all cemetery records since inception. We are confident these two vendors will provide the compassionate service that Gethsemane families deserve.

Once these decades of records are reconciled, there will be no future issues like this as Gethsemane Cemetery is full and the City has moved to a maintenance-based contract.
Jamal Harrison, Deputy Director, General Services Department