WORCESTER (CBS) – Worcester Police are hoping they can reunite more than 100 stolen grave markers belonging to veterans with the families who have lost them.
But it’s a task that won’t be easy, since at least one dates back to the War of 1812, and several to the Civil War.
A North Grafton man has been arrested and charged with stealing the markers from several Worcester cemeteries and selling them to area scrap metal dealers.
Police say the dealers immediately became suspicious.
“They understand the importance of these things to family members. Very rarely, if ever, do you see these things being scrapped,” said Worcester Police Sgt. Kerry Hazelhurst.
Police say 44-year-old Alan Long received about $500 in cash for scrapping 142 brass markers and 76 brass rods.
WBZ-TV’s Beth Germano reports
“They knew right away it was not a legitimate situation. They paid him out to keep him coming back, meanwhile working with us,” said Sgt. Hazelhurst.
An alert went out to dealers with a description of Long who police say first showed up at Starr Scrap Metals on October 7.
All customers are required to provide a photo identification, as well as vehicle registration.
“We knew who we were looking for,” said Hazehurst.
They caught up with Long on October 11 after police say he was turned down for a sale at Goldstein’s Scrap Metal and returned to Starr where he’d been more successful, but the businesses had already contacted police.
The symbols of service are damaged, bent or torn from their roads.
Long’s father, Alan Long, Sr., says his son is drug addicted and desperate for money and is now in detox for a second time after being arraigned on several charges including crimes against morality and decency.
“Once they’re at that point, once it grabs hold of them, you see your son and you say how can that happen?”, he said.
Mr. Long says he is a veteran himself and understands the seriousness of the theft.
“He’s going to do everything he can make restitution for what he has done,” he said.
The thefts angered Michael Graham who walks Hope Cemetery in Worcester every day, and has had markers stolen from his own family grave sites.
“These people risked their lives and limbs for this country. The fact that someone would steal it for scrap metal bothers me to no end,” he said.
While most of the markers have no names, police have traced one to a World War One veteran who died in 1954 to Woodlawn Cemetery in Clinton, and another to a woman who belonged to the American Legion and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Sterling.
Police say they will bring the markers to Hope Cemetery on Monday, October 17 hoping some families will come forward to claim them, a task they admit won’t be easy given the age of the markers.