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Police Search For Unmarked Graves On Cemetery Land That Was Allegedly Sold For New Burials

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Authorities are investigating claims of unmarked graves at a lower section of the Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery, reports the Press-Enterprise. The investigation comes amid allegations that existing (but unmarked) gravesites are being overlooked as cemetery operators sell the land for new burials.

Police were seen excavating dirt at the site on Wednesday, April 26. Authorities also used ground-penetrating radar “to detect anomalies consistent with pre-existing burials," according to the Associated Press. A search warrant was served for authorities to look for evidence that the property was used to commit a felony.

The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that an investigation was underway, but added that, as of May 2, no charges were filed and no arrests were made

According to the Press Telegram, in the 1980s and 1990s allegations arose saying that gravesites in that space had been sold and desecrated. The current investigation comes a few days before a May 10 deposition related to a class-action lawsuit against the Corona Cemetery Association, which is doing business as Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery. Attorney Scott Schutzman, who's representing the families in the suit, told LAist that he had experts investigate the land's history, and that they came across documents that may suggest there are 600 or more graves in the area. Cemetery operators, on the other hand, claim that there are about 250 graves on the site.

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There's not much to indicate a large burial at that lower section of Sunnyslope Cemetery. That site was a pauper's cemetery (or a potter's field). As such, the families of the deceased who were buried there could not afford more prominent grave markers. "Some of them brought homemade markers," Schutzman told LAist. Schutzman also claims that there have have been instances that suggest that cemetery operators had moved the grave markers. He cites an example in which a client said a homemade cross for a deceased relative had gone missing; the cross later turned up in a storage unit operated by the cemetery owners. "I believe the cemetery systematically picks up [the markers]," said Schutzman.

The lawsuit also claims that the land was sold in 2014 to a mosque for new burials.

The Press-Telegram notes that this isn't the first time that the cemetery has been investigated for their practices. In 1994, the Riverside County Coroner’s Office searched for remains in a plot of land that was once part of the potter's field; families had said that storage units, a nursery, and apartments were built over their relatives' gravesites.

LAist called Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery, but no one was immediately available for comment.