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Huntsville police release new information in cemetery investigation

WAAY 31 has new details on the investigation and spoke with one of the historians assisting in the investigation who provided historical background on the cemetery.

Posted: Sep 9, 2019 6:58 PM
Updated: Sep 9, 2019 6:58 PM

The man who owns property at one of the oldest cemeteries in Huntsville may face criminal charges for removing or damaging graves and grave markers.

The investigation on the Richards Cemetery is to determine if the historic cemetery was unlawfully disturbed. There is one headstone on the lot at the moment, but Huntsville police say there may have been another five headstones there at some point. The markers around the burial indicate where they should be located.

WAAY 31 spoke with one person who works in the Geographic Information Systems in Huntsville who said this cemetery has been identified on their maps since 2011.

The owner of this property, Rajinder Mehta, told WAAY 31 last week that he bought the property 40 years ago, but records from the Madison County Tax Assessor show he purchased it in January of 2014 from the Estate of William M. Mcbride.

WAAY 31 called Mehta and left him a voicemail Monday morning. He has not returned our call yet.

A historian working with authorities said the half-acre cemetery was actually deeded out for a family burial ground in the 1800s. She said the original family's son deeded the property out.

The historian also said deeding out land keeps it out of the surrounding land owner's hands and the owner doesn't have to pay taxes on it.

In order to build on historical land in the state of Alabama, according to the Alabama Historical Commission, one must get a permit if they want to restore, preserve or relocate human burial remains on a property.

Huntsville police and researchers located the headstone of an 8-year-old-girl named Harriet Caroline Baines. The historian who worked with authorities said her parents are also said to be buried next to their daughter, according to records, but their headstones are not there at the moment.

The story of the Richards Cemetery is Evand Richards purchased the plot of land from the government in 1815, which was 160 acres.
He later deeded a one-acre lot to the trustees of a Methodist Episcopal Church.

Richards died in 1843 and his wife died soon after. His son was left in charge of his estate.

The historian stated that there's circumstantial evidence the Baines family, where 8-year-old Harriet's headstone lies, is buried at the cemetery. Historians suspect the Baines and Richards families were friends.

Richards' son, Stephen, left Alabama and acted as the administrator of the land. The half-acre for a family cemetery was deeded out of the land and the one-acre lot of the once standing church was reserved. The research concludes there is evidence that 6 to 10 family members were buried in the Richards burial grounds.

Huntsville police say archaeologists have completed their field work, but it may take several weeks for the full investigation to be complete. If the property owner knowingly disrupted the graves, he could face criminal charges.

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