Dozens of families feel betrayed by Detroit cemetery

‘What if I want to go down there on Veterans Day and stick a flag next to Bert’s grave? I can’t find him.’

DETROIT – Grave markers moved, missing headstones, and other issues have plagued families with loved ones buried at Gethsemane Cemetery and it keeps getting worse.

Even more families are claiming their trust was betrayed when they relied on the Gethsemane Cemetery to take care of their loved ones’ remains.

Emails came pouring into Local 4 following Karen Drew’s story on Monday, Nov. 13. Families are wondering what really happened to their family members.

Background: Grave markers moved, missing headstones: Problems plague Detroit cemetery

One viewer said the cemetery had no record of their father. Another said their father’s marker for where he was buried had vanished. Another said they can’t find their grandfather and the city would not return their calls.

One family is experiencing generational heartbreak. Like the 24 other families who shared their stories, John Barker is no longer certain where his parents are buried.

“We have grandchildren, I’d like to take them down there and say, ‘Well, this is where your grandmother is,’” said Barker. “For the rest of our history for my family, it’ll be an unknown. They will not know.”

Long before they died, Barker’s parents -- Bert and Selma -- planned ahead. They bought their own future gravesites at Detroit’s Gethsemane Cemetery in 1955.

Barker said his parents wanted to make sure they had a peaceful final resting place. One where generations of family could visit and remember them.

For years, he and his sister visited their parents’ gravesite until one day, they found the headstones gone. Like other families who reached out to Local 4, Barker said the cemetery management companies hired by the city were no help.

“You can’t get in the gate. You do get in and there’s nobody in the office. ‘Be back later.’ There’s a note on the door. Nobody ever comes back,” Barker said. “There’s nobody there. Over the last 20 years, it didn’t matter who was the contractor who came in that the city hired to do it, they were all lame.”

When Local 4 reached out to the City of Detroit, the owner of Gethsemane Cemetery, to ask about Bert and Selma Barker’s headstones, the city sent an email that claimed it had “no headstone or evidence of a headstone purchase” for the couple.

However, John Barker has evidence. He has a headstone receipt that’s decades old, but can still be read. It shows Bert Barker paid more than $500 for headstones and a “cemetery charge” is included.

Barker said his parents were betrayed by the cemetery they chose for their final resting place.

Local 4 shared a link to its investigation into Gethsemane Cemetery with all nine Detroit City Council members and requested comment, but as of Tuesday afternoon, no one has responded.

A Gethsemane Cemetery insider who wished to remain anonymous described an absolute mess at the cemetery. They said graves were sold multiple times with bodies buried on top of bodies. They alleged the Detroit Parks and Recreation Department allowed the cemetery management contracts to do whatever they wanted.

About the Author:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter.