Families are now one step closer to visiting their loved ones buried at Galilee Memorial Gardens in Bartlett. The cemetery has been closed since late January after accusations of mismanagement and criminal behavior erupted against the owner, Jemar Lambert.
The district attorney general’s office handed over control of the cemetery to the state last week. Julie McPeak is the receiver (in charge of the property on behalf of Tennessee), and local attorney David Kustoff is the deputy receiver.
Although the property is no longer an active crime scene, the premises are still being assessed and visitors are not yet allowed, said Megan Buell, director of education, marketing and outreach for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
“Our hearts go out to the families,” Buell said. “We know this is a trying time for the loved ones that have been faced with this issue.”
She said the continued access delay is necessary for her department and Kustoff to ensure all assessments are made and the property is handled correctly.
“We just ask the public to be patient with us,” Buell said. “… It’s a tough, emotional process for these loved ones, and we just ask that they work with us on this.”
Lambert, who is now out on bond, initially faced two criminal trials, but the separate cases have been combined and the trial date has been postponed indefinitely while the state builds its case against him.
Charges against Lambert include theft of property over $60,000 (for allegedly burying bodies on someone else’s nearby property), as well as abuse of a corpse and theft of property over $1,000 (on allegations of burying multiple bodies in the same grave, making room for more burials by using heavy equipment to crush caskets in occupied grave sites, and losing track of where bodies were buried).
He also faces at least two multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuits against him in civil court.
The district attorney’s office did not respond to inquiries on Monday about the handover of the cemetery to the state.
Kustoff said, “We do hope in the near future the cemetery may be reopened to family members that want to visit.”
For the moment, the grounds remain behind an encircling wall and a locked main gate, although the property is no longer continuously manned by law enforcement sentries.
Safety concerns are the current block – a driveway that was partially removed (presumably to make room for more bodies), as well as uneven grounds and other hazards. Kustoff, who has examined the property, said it was in bad shape when it was turned over in January.
“And at this point, no improvements have been made to the property,” he said.
He had no comment on whether has or has not reviewed available records of the criminal investigation, but he confirmed his plans to file a formal report with the court soon, approximately within the next six weeks. That time frame may be extended if Davidson County chancellor Carol L. McCoy requests any additional information.
Kustoff and Buell also declined to comment on whether there will be any future work done to determine the location of all bodies reportedly buried at the cemetery.
“We’re still in the preliminary stages of taking possession of the cemetery,” Buell said.
Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.