Cemetery thieves steal a lot more than metal

It's a national concern. Cedar Park has been hit particularly hard, Moran said.

Metal thieves "are stealing copper gutters off the front of people's houses," Moran said. "They're stealing sewer caps from villages all over the county. They steal the copper in the cell towers. This is really about metal theft everywhere. It just so happens cemeteries are an easy target."

Willie Carter, the cemetery owner, said he doesn't have enough money to provide security guards. The metal thieves know this, and return again and again.

Paying to replace the gravestones, or even coming up with the insurance deductible, is a challenge for Solaya, an out-of-work TV studio manager. He remembered his grandfather and he shook with rage.

"He was a huge White Sox fan," Solaya remembered. "After school, I'd cross the alley and go to his house and we'd sit at the kitchen table and he'd be sitting there playing solitaire, listening to his big radio with Bob Elson doing a Sox game. And I'd get my little glass of Coke and my fig bars that they used to buy at Goldblatt's."

On that first day of terrible discovery, he strode into the Cedar Park office.

"They sort of shook their heads," he said. "They said, 'Was it bronze?' And I said, 'Yes, it was.' And she goes 'Yeah, we've been having problems with that for a while.'"

"Their reaction is always 'Well, just pull it out of your insurance.' I mean, very crass … 'It's not our responsibility.' That's all they ever say."

The deer walked past. The wind ran its hands through the long grass. And Michael Solaya knelt among the nameless graves.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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