Grave situation

Bring out your dead. Or at least bring out that old headstone you “found” back in the day.

Thanks to the “Grave Marker Amnesty Program” launched by the Sacramento County Cemetery Advisory Commission and the district attorney, gravestone robbers can now return grave markers and headstones without fear of prosecution, no questions asked.

Whether a grave marker was found in a garden or was stolen on a dare, this program offers the opportunity to clear consciences and also preserve a little local history.

“We thought that if we developed this amnesty program it would make people feel more comfortable. That is, if there are no questions asked,” explained Bob LaPerriere, Cemetery Advisory Commission co-chairman.

The commission is particularly interested in rounding up markers from the New Helvetia Cemetery, once located at Alhambra and J streets (now Sutter Middle School), which was the resting place of about 5,000 bodies. It is thought that Sacramento County’s first sheriff, Joseph McKinney, shot dead in the “squatter riots” of 1850, was buried there. It was in the early 1900s that the city replaced many of the original hand-carved marble headstones with flat grave markers.

Then, in 1956, the remains were removed to make way for the school. Most were taken to the City Cemetery or a mass gravesite in East Lawn Cemetery. But for some reason, the stones were piled in the street free for the taking.

“It would really help put a lot of puzzles together if we could locate some of these markers,” LaPerriere said.

For more information or to return a grave marker, call (916) 874-9103 or e-mail