Valdez police investigate grave robbery

Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2000

VALDEZ (AP) -- Valdez police are trying to determine who dug up the grave of a pioneer buried at the Old Valdez cemetery.

The unearthed grave was discovered last week when volunteers arrived for a day of work, cleaning out brush and weeds.

''It looks like somebody did some grave robbing,'' Valdez Police Sgt. Bill Comer said. ''They dug down and actually got into a casket.''

The grave belonged to James Howell, who died of heart disease on June 2, 1916.

Howell was born in 1845 in Howell's Prairie, Ore. He arrived in Valdez in 1898, said Gail Colby, who found the disturbed grave.

''He was one of the early miners in town,'' Colby said. ''I've been trying to research him and his family but I haven't been able to get a whole lot of information.''

Sgt. Comer said it is not yet clear just what crime was committed by digging up Howell's grave.

Misconduct involving a corpse is a misdemeanor, Comer said. A theft charge is also possible, but a victim must be identified, he said. Comer said he was researching laws on grave robbing.

''This is kind of untested waters for us,'' he said.

The Old Valdez cemetery was used from the 1890s until 1917. The Valdez Historical Preservation and Restoration Society is working to create signs to provide information about the buried pioneers and is adding groomed paths, benches and plaques.

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