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Walters Law Firm remains committed to getting the Bess family the answers they deserve, and to resolving this matter in an efficient manner to ensure that this does not happen to other individuals in our local community.
Body of unknown person found in prepaid family plot prompts lawsuit
Forty-three years prior to that date, Bess, his wife, Norlena Mae, and parents William and Nancy Lee Bess, bought side-by-side burial plots in the cemetery, and later received deeds to the plots, according to a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Kanawha Circuit Court.
In 2008, Bess’ mother was buried in the plot. She was later joined by her husband, a World War II U.S. Army veteran and retired miner, in 2013.
But long-held plans for Barry Bess, a longtime youth league football coach in Cedar Grove, to be laid to rest next to his parents, and later, his wife, fell apart with the discovery of the mysterious body in what was to have been his grave.
Soon after the as-yet unidentified body was discovered, family members were told by a cemetery employee that the gravesites of Barry and Norlena Mae Bess could be relocated in another section of the graveyard, but could not remain next to the graves of William and Nancy Lee Bess.
That, in effect, “denied the family the burial plan they had depended on for more than 40 years,” according to the complaint filed in behalf of Bess’ survivors by Charleston attorney Ron Walters Jr.
Cemetery employees told family members on several occasions that they had no idea whose body was buried in Barry Bess’ gravesite, had no record of that burial having taken place and couldn’t discern any identifying markings on the unknown corpse’s casket.
There was no marker on the exterior of the grave or any surface disturbance to the burial site to indicate the presence of a previous burial, Walters said.
“It could be Jimmy Hoffa, for all we know,” Walters said during a news conference outside the Judicial Annex to announce filing the lawsuit.
In a letter sent to Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Tuesday, Walters called for an investigation to determine the identity of the person buried in Bess’ gravesite “to ensure there was no foul play” involved in the death.
Walters also wants the A.G.’s office to investigate the corporate practices of the cemetery’s owners, Stone-Mor Partners LP, to determine if it is “engaged in double-selling burial plots.”
The circuit court complaint charges StoneMor Partners and a subsidiary, Cornerstone Family Services of West Virginia LLC, doing business as Kanawha Valley Memorial Gardens, with, among other things, breach of contract, negligence, fraud and grave desecration. A jury trial is sought.
Family sues over mysterious body found in Kanawha grave
The family is asking that West Virginia State Police and Attorney General’s Office investigate the matter.
“The corporate owner of the cemetery has provided mixed messages over whether the company knows whose body is in the grave and has failed on at least two occasions to offer a shred of evidence that the identity is known,” Ron Walters, Jr., attorney for the family, said today.
Walters is filing the lawsuit against Stonemor Partner, L.P., which does business as Cornerstone Family Services of West Virginia, LLC, which is the corporate owner of Kanawha Valley Memorial Gardens, on behalf of the Bess family.
In 1977, William and Nancy Lee Bess, their son Barry Bess and Barry’s wife Norlena Mae Bess bought adjoining burial plots at the cemetery. Nancy Lee Bess was buried in 2008, and William Bess was buried in 2013. In March 2020, when it was time to bury Barry Bess, an unknown body was discovered in his plot.
“This is final wishes, this is eternity, you don’t mess with death,” said Walters Jr.
WSAZ has previously reported on residents concerns with StoneMor, including deteriorating conditions of headstones, poor maintenance and other issues with several West Virginia properties.
In addition to the issue of the unknown body, Norlena Mae Bess and other family members are suing because they say the cemetery has failed to provide a double granite marker for the plots of William and Nancy Lee Bess and a military bronze memorial plaque for the grave of William Bess, even though they say all expenses related to their burials had been paid before their deaths.
“We’re also asking for an investigation by the Attorney General into their corporate practices and file keeping and also with the state troopers to determine the identification of the unknown party buried in my clients property who we feel that we have a right to know that they have been taken care of and that this doesn’t happen to other individuals in this community.” – Ronald Walters Jr.
Norlena Mae Bess and other family members are suing for breach of contract, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, trespass, fraud, and grave desecration.
On Tuesday, Curtis Johnson, press secretary for the West Virginia Office of the Attorney General tells WSAZ “We just learned of the matter with news of today’s public filing. While the reported allegations sound deeply troubling, I can neither confirm nor deny any pending investigation, and therefore I cannot provide any further comment at this time.”
We reached out to StoneMor Partners Inc. who tells us: “This was a misburial that occurred in 1992. We purchased the cemetery in 2008. This is a liability of the prior owner but we are working with the family to handle anything we can control on our end.”
WSAZ also learned of another lawsuit in Logan County, a family is suing another StoneMor affiliate for neglect maintenance, damaged property and consumer violations.
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