Death and Taxes (Part 2): The Crumbling Burial Chamber
Once advertised as a “magnificent chapel mausoleum of reinforced concrete, granite and marble built to endure the ages,” this burial chamber is now literally crumbling.
I wrote about this place back in 2012 , without revealing the location, since I thought it was the most disturbing abandonment I’d ever seen. Sadly, I’ve since learned that abandoned interment spaces are becoming quite a common occurrence across the United States because of financial difficulties.
Due to years of neglect, the mausoleum at Good Shepherd Memorial Park on Westminster Road in Plains Township, which has been featured in numerous local news stories since 2015, is in a dangerous state of disrepair. The cemetery was created in 1976 by owners known collectively as Westminster Associates. Then in 1994, Larry Deminski, who incorporated himself with the Department of State as Westminster Memorial Garden, Inc., became the sole owner of the cemetery.
By 2003, the property was overgrown and neglected, and there was more than $20,000 owed in unpaid taxes on the cemetery. The water and electricity had been shut off.
Good Shepherd Memorial Park Office
Nobody was doing any structural maintenance on the mausoleum and burial records couldn’t be found anywhere. Then Deminski died in February 2004. The current owners bought it, sight unseen, at a tax sale for $4,500 in August 2005, per county records.
According to local news outlets, Lawrence Lee and Viktoria Evstafieva were unaware that the property was a cemetery when they purchased it at a tax sale. Their attorney, John Comitz told local papers that the property never should have been sold in the first place because cemeteries cannot be taxed or sold at tax sales in Pennsylvania. In June of 2015, code enforcement officials roped off the outdoor crypt areas with yellow police tape and locked the mausoleum for safety reasons.
That same year, the troubled Plains Township cemetery was pulled from yet tax another tax sale on September 24th, because the matter was in litigation with Luzerne County and its tax claim bureau. At the time, records showed $15,477 were owed in back taxes by the current owners since 2010. They were also sued for damages, both financial and emotional, by a woman who sought restitution for having to remove her father from Good Shepherd’s mausoleum to have him relocated to another cemetery.
Described as peaceful and beautiful 30 years ago, today the structure is so unstable that people can’t pay respect to their loved ones. Although it’s been so long since the police tape went up that it’s now gone, locks and chains still hang heavily at the doorway, prohibiting anyone from entering the crumbling final resting place of its inhabitants.
“Criminal” and “disrespectful” are words used by family members to describe the situation. “When you make arrangements to Rest in Peace they should be able to rest in peace” is what one distraught family member told a local news station. “I worry everyday what’s going to happen to that structure where my parents are,” said another. “This is terrible. This is one big nightmare.”
Some families with loved ones interred there would like to move them, but cost is an issue, as well as the fact that bodies can no longer be removed until the structure has been stabilized. An inspection was done, and it was determined that it wasn’t safe for people to take remains out until the building is secured. Removing the heavy marble panels and taking the caskets out of the vaults could jeopardize the integrity of the entire structure.
Other families wanted to take over the mausoleum, hoping to restore it since their deceased loved ones had expressed a desire to be laid to rest in that location, but no visible work can be seen taking place on the structure–just more deterioration as observed by these two pictures taken just four years apart.
Obviously financial obstacles are a barrier to finding any workable solution. An estimate given to repair the roof came in at around $52,000. Obviously the township can’t pick up the tab, but it has agreed to waive the fees for the permits that will be required for any work done to the mausoleum. But who is going to take over the property and put up the money needed for repairs?
“It’s a terrible situation up there,” according to Plains Township Commissioner Chairman Robert Sax . “It’s the strangest, saddest situation I’ve ever dealt with as a commissioner.”
Cheri Sundra © 2016 All Rights Reserved