Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of graves at one of Southern California’s most famous cemeteries appear to have vanished, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found.
Many relatives of those buried there decades ago, including celebrities and war veterans, were unaware of the situation, until the I-Team contacted them.
“It’s unbelievable,” Janet Tanner-Nielsen told NBC4 after we showed her video of her late grandfather A.E. Tanner’s covered grave at Pierce Brothers Valhalla Cemetery in North Hollywood. “It almost makes me sick.”
The I-Team began its investigation after hearing complaints from numerous families who said they could no longer find the graves of late relatives at Pierce Brothers. The I-Team went to the cemetery and uncovered many graves that were invisible, buried under inches of dirt and weeds.
“These people loved, they cried, they lived, and their history should not be obliterated by lack of maintenance,” said Ken Howard, whose aunt is buried at Pierce Brothers.
In December 2017, Howard filed a complaint against Pierce Brothers with the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. Letting graves get buried over is against state law, which says cemeteries must “trim or mow grass… to a level where markers of graves can be seen.”
The state investigated and found Pierce Brothers was in violation of the law for “failing to meet minimum maintenance” standards. The state issued a warning, but no penalty.
Ken Howard said nothing changed at the cemetery after that investigation, so he filed a second complaint last April.
This time, the state concluded the grounds were “mowed and well landscaped” and closed the investigation.
But the I-Team has returned to Pierce Brothers every month for the last six months, and continued to find numerous graves buried by dirt and weeds.
Pierce Brothers owner, Service Corporation International (SCI) told NBC4 it’s now undertaking numerous improvements at the cemetery. In a statement to NBC4, SCI said it has an ongoing program to uncover grave markers, it’s hired a new gopher abatement company, and now has a full-time water technician to oversee the proper growth of grass. Click here for read SCI's full statement to NBC4.
But the grave of war veteran A.E. Tanner, grandfather of Janet Tanner-Nielsen, is once again covered by inches of dirt and grass, invisible to all.
"I think it is very disrespectful," said Tanner-Nielsen. "How can they do this?"