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NC Metal Thieves Turning Into Graverobbers In Rural Areas

Photo: Telegram files.

By The Raleigh Telegram

RALEIGH – In addition to the manhole covers, fire hydrants, catalytic converters, street signs, and other items being stolen in the cities by metal thieves, rural areas across North Carolina are now being hit as well.  The targets?  Churches and cemeteries where there are few people who might see the thieves in action and the chances of being caught are much lower.

In all of these cases, the payoff is the same for the criminals: metal.  The thieves take the precious metals of copper, steel, aluminum, and even platinum to recycling centers for cash.

In North Carolina, most recyclers follow the law and get the name and address of the person bringing in the items.  However, law enforcement officials have told the Telegram that there are enough unscrupulous metal recyclers who look the other way enough to make it pay off for thieves.  In addition, the nature of the items being recycled is hard to trace.

Even for legitimate recyclers, it’s hard to tell if copper wire was recovered from a building being torn down legally or if it was stolen and ripped out of someone’s home.

With a bad economy, the continued focus on cash from metal has meant that criminals are continuing to look for targets, even ones that would seemingly be off limits by all but the worst of criminals.  In some recent examples, targets in rural areas now include churches and cemeteries, literally turning metal thieves into grave robbers.

In Rockingham County, the sheriff’s department there has reported that thieves have hit a local cemetery and taken off with metal vases that hold flowers at the graves.

Detectives said that twelve gravesite vases were taken from Roselawn Memorial Gardens Cemetery located at 1821 Ashley Loop Road in Reidsville, North Carolina. They believe that the thefts are believed to have occurred between Wednesday October 31st and Wednesday November 14th.

Strangely, the criminals took the vases but carefully put back the flowers that were in the vases.

“The thief removed the metallic vases from the gravesites, and then placed the flowers from the vases into the holes where the vases had been located,” said Deputy Kevin Suthard of the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Department.

Suthard has also said that the county is seeing some thefts of heating and air conditioning units from rural churches as well.  Whether the units are being sold as scrap metal or as working, complete units is unclear, but the cost to replace them by small, rural churches is the same.

In Pamlico County, North Carolina, a recent metal theft angered local residents there who feel that some things should be sacred. 

According to The Pamlico News newspaper, a bronze grave marker was taken from a family cemetery on 27 acres in rural Merritt.  The marker was on the gravesite of Leavitte Lynn Setzer, who served in both the Korean War and Vietnam, after joining the Army when he was only 17 years old.

His family is understandably upset that someone would come onto their property and disturb Setzer’s grave, stealing the bronze marker that was provided by the Veterans Administration, and leaving the grave unmarked.

Eugene Setzer, who is his son, said on Facebook that it takes a low person to steal the gravemarker of a veteran to redeem it for whatever small payoff they may get in return.

“Apparently the scrap metal value of someone’s retired veteran father was worth the moral judgment call with someone,” he said on Facebook.  “Really…you have that little moral fortitude within yourself that stooping that low to steal a burial marker seems like an acceptable thing to do?”

Bridgette Setzer, the decased’s widow, told The Pamlico News that she found it hard to believe someone would do such a thing.

“You just don’t do certain things like disturb a gravesite,” she told the paper.  “People should have more respect.”

Meanwhile, back in the urban areas metal thieves continue to hit targets of opportunity prompting many to wonder where the metal related crimes will end.  At a car repair shop in Cary earlier this year, thieves took a torch and cut the catalytic converters out of around a dozen cars that were stored at the shop overnight.  The thieves were going for the small pieces of platinum that are in the converters.

A worker at the shop said that the customers were irate that their cars were broken into and they lost a good number of clients due to the thefts.  In addition, some of the older cars were left at the shop, as the repairs to replace the exhaust systems and catalytic converters on them were simply not worth it and the owners declined to pay to have them fixed.  ::

Article Posted: Thursday, November 29th, 2012.