Grave Injustice

Grave Injustice

By Lee Marshall - bio|email
Posted by Dana Franks - email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Up a gravel road, in the back of the Mount Paran Cemetery in New Market, are the graves of paupers. It's a final resting place for those who couldn't afford dignity in death.

"They dig a big hole about 14 foot deep," said Barbara Jones. "They put 4 coffins in hole."

Barbara Payne couldn't afford a funeral for the love of her life, Blendon Jones. But she never thought his final resting place wouldn't be peaceful.

"There's just no closure with this, and it's just not right," Payne said.

Jones served in the Army. He was a decorated combat soldier earning a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam service, campaign medals, and a sharpshooter badge.

"He was very, very proud of being a veteran," Payne said.

On Oct. 6, Jones, known as BJ, died at home of a heart attack. Payne was out of town, visiting her son in Missouri.

"They told me on the phone that the best place for the body to be taken was Berryhill's [Funeral Home]," she said. "I kept trying to call the funeral home to find out what's happening, if BJ was going to be buried, where, how, and the coroner would never call me back."

Without a death certificate, Payne's hands were tied.

"Then a friend mentioned to me about this [organization called] Still Serving Veterans, so I went there and I saw Grant Rosenstill and he called Berryhill's and talked to the coroner. He called to talk to Bobby [Berryhill]. He said, 'I can't go any further without a death certificate.'"

"Every honorable discharged veteran and his or her spouse are entitled to burial in any national cemetery that has space, at no cost to them, once the remains cross the property line of the cemetery," Rosenstill said.

"I saw Mr. Rosenstill before Thanksgiving," Payne said. "So that was in November. I saw him again on Dec. 10 and at that time he still had not received the death certificate.'

Payne and BJ Had been together 20 years. They never took marriage vows, but lived and loved until death took them apart. Payne has filed a claim to prove common law through Veterans Affairs.

She couldn't wait any longer on BJ's burial. After 4 months of no answers, no return phone calls, and no death certificate, she stopped by Berryhill's in February.

"He said, 'Well, how can I help you?' I said, 'Well I am trying to find out about Blendon Jones,.' He said, 'Oh, he was buried on Dec. 3."

WAFF 48 News knows that Jones is buried in one of the pauper's graves, but we don't know which one because neither have markers. We also know he's not alone. The grave is shared with three other people.

"[I asked], 'Why?' And he said, 'You know, the veterans don't pay anything.' He said they don't pay if it's not service related," Payne said.

So WAFF 48 News went to Berryhill's to get answers. When we asked for Bobby Berryhill, we were told that he was not there or that he was with another family.

WAFF 48 News did obtain a copy of Jones' death certificate. It says he died on Oct. 6, was buried on Dec. 3, and a death certificate was issued Jan. 22.

Jones, a man who served his country with honor but was buried with no dignity. He was a decorated American solider whose final resting place is in an unmarked, undecorated pauper's grave that's washing away.