Jackson County families unable to locate loved ones' graves in neglected cemetery

Graves lost in Jackson Co. cemetery

JACKSON COUNTY, Mo - A cemetery that's been neglected for years has left families searching for their loved ones' graves.

When driving through the front gate of Highland Cemetery, located in unincorporated Jackson County, you'll see trees that line the winding dirt roads.

But, if you look a little closer, you'll see vandalized tombstones, knee high grass and gaping holes where the graves have settled.

Charles Porter's parents are buried here.

For weeks, he's been searching for their headstones.

"Everywhere I look around I see something's been dug up or removed," Porter said. "[It's] just pathetic the way it looks now."

Porter's not the only one frustrated with the conditions of the cemetery.

Dewain Whitmore has several family members buried in Highland. He has also had trouble locating them.

"This is just tragic," Whitmore said. "I don't know who owns it or who's responsible but I wish they'd take better care of it."

The 41 Action News Investigators found the cemetery is owned by the Land Trust of Jackson County. The corporation takes on properties that are behind on taxes that no one else wants.  

Michael Hunter, the commissioner of the Land Trust, said they're aware of the problem but that there's not much they can do.

"The biggest challenge is just the ongoing annual maintenance," Hunter said.

The cost to fill the holes, Hunter said, would be about $40,000. Add another $27,000 annually, he said, to mow the property.

The Land Trust only brings in about $50,000 a year, according to Hunter.

"I can't make it rain cash, though it'd be nice," Hunter said.

Jackson County Parks and Recreation have recently stepped in to get the grass mowed. It's not clear how long the county will be able to continue with the upkeep.

Selling the cemetery would be ideal, but Hunter said it's not a likely scenario, since it's mostly full.

Bennie Moten, a legendary jazz musician, is buried in highland.

41 Action News spoke to a group with ties to the jazz community, the group is working to become an LLC, with the hope that they'll be able to get grants and clean up the cemetery.

While helping Porter search for his parents grave, 41 Action News Investigators were able to find his father's headstone, although he's still searching for his mother.

"I see a whole lot of graves that haven't been tended to," Porter said. "It's a whole lot different than it was when I used to come out here."

 

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Jessica McMaster can be reached at jessica.mcmaster@kshb.com

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