Family sues over mysterious body found in Kanawha grave

Published: Jul. 28, 2020 at 3:36 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 28, 2020 at 4:48 PM EDT
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KANAWHA, W. Va. (WSAZ) - A Kanawha County family is filing a lawsuit in circuit court after a body was found in a burial plot the family purchased more than 40 years ago at Kanawha Valley Memorial Gardens at Glasgow.

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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