Stolen gravestone returned to family cemetery in Cape

Sunday, May 9, 2010
Drew Blattner, center, of the Cape Girardeau County Archives Center, helps Clinton Hodges, right, return the gravestone of Jesse Miller to its original site in the Nunn-Miller Cemetery in Cape Girardeau as Hodges' siblings Ella Louise Hanley, left, and Carlton Hodges watch Saturday. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

A stolen gravestone belonging to a Southeast Missouri man who died in 1906 was returned to its rightful place Saturday.

About a dozen people, including six descendants of Jesse J. Miller, gathered on the grounds of Chateau Girardeau in Cape Girardeau to witness the gravestone's placement in the Miller-Nunn family cemetery.

"It is quite satisfying to know that my great-great-grandfather, Jesse Jones Miller, and his tombstone were rightfully reunited," said Steve Knuckles of Imperial, Mo. "What is most humbling is that few, if any, of his descendants -- me included -- never knew that the tombstone was gone."

The gravestone was one of two discovered in December by Wayne Godwin while he was surveying land near his Cape Girardeau County rental home with property manager Dave Soto. The other stone was a marker for Samuel and William Masterson, young twins who died in 1863 and 1864, respectively.

Soto said the owner of Godwin's home told him someone living in her neighborhood stole the gravestones one Halloween many years ago.

Godwin and Soto then contacted the Cape Girardeau County Archives Center, which has a group of employees and volunteers dedicated to uncovering and documenting gravestones at the county's more than 230 cemeteries. Eleven Masterson descendants gathered March 13 to view the return of that gravestone to the Masterson family cemetery on Cypress Hill Road near the Jaycee Municipal Golf Course.

Drew Blattner, assistant director of the Cape Girardeau County Archives Center in Jackson and a distant cousin of the Masterson twins, said the exact location of the Masterson twins' burial in the cemetery is unknown so the gravestone was placed against a tree stump that day.

Blattner said this was the first time someone has volunteered to return a stone belonging in a graveyard.

"It's nice knowing that a stone is returned to where it belongs," Blattner said. "When the stones are returned, it's like you do them justice. There's nothing more terrible than for someone to steal a grave marker."

Bonnie Proctor of Arnold, Mo., said she had visited Miller's grave since 1981 but had never seen the gravestone outside of photographs until it was returned in March.

"It kind of gives you a good feeling that someone cared enough that it was placed back where it belongs," Proctor said. "We're so grateful because an act of kindness like that doesn't happen that often."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

243-8600

Pertinent address:

112 E. Washington Ave., Jackson, MO

3120 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

3280 Perryville Road, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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