Burying a loved one at River Hills Memorial Park near Batavia? You may want to think twice before installing brass grave decorations and flower vases.
For the second time this spring, a thief has removed brass vases off graves. At least 25 were stolen between 7 a.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. Sunday, according to the Kane County Sheriff's Department.
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In April, 39 of the vases were stolen from the cemetery, which is at 1650 S. River St. (Route 25). The value of that loss was estimated at $15,600.
"We believe they are scrapping the metal," said sheriff's spokesman Lt. Patrick Gengler. "And they are not doing it here (at local scrap dealers).
"It makes it a lot harder to catch."
Gengler said during the housing boom of the early 2000s, larcenous scrappers were busy stealing construction materials off sites, such as copper pipe. Now that that industry is struggling, thieves have turned to cemeteries "to apply their craft, so to speak."
The crime disgusts him.
"It takes a real special person to steal things like that (memorial items)," he said, saying the thieves must not have any respect for grieving people and their emotions.
A woman tending her late husband's grave Monday evening agreed. Ruth Cooney arrived to find his vase gone. It didn't surprise her, given graves near his had been robbed last year.
"I'm not going to replace it," she said. "They would probably just steal it again."
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. At Elgin Recycling, it fetches $1.40 to $1.80 per pound, depending on its condition.
Elgin Recycling owner Bob Conroy said his company works with police, and follows state laws about recording the identification of people who turn in more than $100 worth of scrap metal. He recalled that about five years ago, somebody tried to sell him copper gutters they had stolen off a church.
In May 2010 16 bronze vases were stolen from the cemetery. Three bronze vases were also stolen that week out of Oak Hill Cemetery in Geneva. Bronze is also made of copper, with tin.
And 19 vases were stolen at River Hills in two incidents in October 2007.
The 10-pound vases aren't hard to steal; the cemetery requires inverted vases, which can be turned upside-down and stored in a hole in the gravestone from November through March. There's no fence on the Route 25 front of the cemetery, and short chain-link separates it from houses on the east and south sides.
Illinois Funeral Directors Association Executive Director Duane Marsh was familiar with cemetery theft, but said he hadn't heard of any lately. Told about the Batavia thefts, he said "I think what you are seeing ... there is some sort of organized effort."
Gengler said adding patrols or staking out the cemetery might not help. For one thing, they don't know if the thievery is happening during the day or night. "It (River Hills) is a little difficult because it is open; it is hard for us to hide," Gengler said.
Thieves also stole bronze vases from the cemetery twice in October 2007.
River Hills Memorial Park LLC lists the same agent as Troost Cemeteries, according to the Illinois Secretary of State's office. Telephone and email messages seeking comment, including some left in April about the first thefts, have not been returned. Troost Cemeteries is based out of Clarendon Hills Cemetery in Westmont.