Update: Galilee has 6,700+ unmarked graves


Oct. 1 report reveals inaccuracies of burial records and markings.

The latest report on Galilee Memorial Gardens in Bartlett, issued on Oct. 1, reveals more than 6,700 unmarked graves found during inspections. The report says it may be impossible to determine the exact location of individuals in those unmarked graves, as they make up the majority of the cemetery.

Galilee hit the headlines in 2013 and 2014 over allegations of land theft to bury bodies, multiple bodies being buried in the same spot, and haphazard or missing records about where bodies were placed. In March, owner Jemar Lambert pleaded guilty in a deal that left him with 10 years’ probation. He still faces costly class-action civil lawsuits.

The mystery and pain for survivors does not stop with those unmarked graves. Families of nearly 400 deceased may be visiting and leaving flowers over empty land. The Oct. 1 report notes that there are 378 spaces that are marked with dates of death, but those spaces appear to be vacant.

The report states, “While it is possible that these mark the place of cremains (cremated remains), it appears more likely that these markers were placed without knowledge of the actual burial location of the persons indicated.”

Correcting erroneously marked spaces seems unlikely. The report states, “Placing of further markers would be based on guesswork based on the location of currently marked and occupied graves and the records of the cemetery, but — given the overall inaccuracy of these records, there is no guarantee that the deceased are where we believe them to be.”

Despite all the overcrowding issues in parts of the cemetery, it still has vacancies. Inspections at Galilee have revealed that it currently has 1,970 grave spaces that are vacant, useable and platted. The problem is that the ownership of those spaces is currently unknown.

The process of reviewing grave space claims is just beginning. It is complicated by the fact that many of those spaces are not recorded as vacant in existing cemetery records.

As of Aug. 21, Receivership Management Inc. (RMI ) has received 278 claims from people about burial spaces that were bought in advance and not yet used. The report said this claims process is ongoing, and RMI will analyze and review the claims. When the process is completed, a recommendation and report will be filed with the Chancery Court of Davidson County in Nashville.

The report notes that work remains, but “substantial progress has been made” in completing the cemetery audit. The next focus will be on analyzing the claims filed with RMI.

This report requests that the court set a Dec. 18 due date for the next report.

Today’s report was issued by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI). Among other responsibilities, the TDIC regulates funeral home and cemetery practices. The TDIC successfully petitioned the Davidson County Chancery Court to close the cemetery in January 2014 and put it into receivership. (“Receivership” means that the property is under someone’s official custody while legal issues are being sorted out.) Memphis attorney David Kustoff was appointed as deputy receiver of the cemetery, making him the local person responsible for managing the business while it is under the court’s control.

See the “Mapping and Probing” section of this story for details uncovered in the inspection of each cemetery section.

General updates

  • Burial and refund denied: On Sept. 10, Ann Arnett contacted RMI about burying her father next to her mother. An inspection showed that the burial plot was already occupied. She agreed to make other arrangements and asked about getting a refund. She was told there is no operational money available to make such a refund.
  • Insufficient bond: The cemetery had a fidelity bond to cover dishonest acts of the lamberts as employees. The amount was $50,000 per listed employee. The Receiver and Special Deputy Receiver determined that the amount wasn’t enough to make pursuing the funds practical for this receivership.
  • Tombstone protection: The cemetery gate and the office toward the back of the cemetery got new locks in mid-August. The office contains a number of previously cut stones, some of which aren’t the type that belong in Galilee. Those will need to be inventoried, and potential owners will need to be contacted.
  • Nontaxable request: The Tennessee Board of Equalization has not ruled on an earlier request to deem some recently added cemetery property as nontaxable. Kustoff asked for an update in September, but a TBE spokesman said they would follow up with him if any more information is needed and that the process could take six to 12 months. The property is an adjoining 3.6 acres of property that was added to Galilee on June 1. The N.I.M. Charitable Remainder Unitrust Agreement of Robert F. and Martha H. Fogelman conveyed the land to the cemetery.
  • Zoning: It may be necessary to coordinate zoning issues about the Fogelman property to ensure the land is appropriately designated and combined with the existing cemetery land.
  • Costs adding up: The total costs for this Receivership as of Sept. 24 totaled about $351,444.36 for bills received. Of that, the Improvement Care Trust reimbursed $21,450 for improvement care. The remaining amount was paid from the Cemetery Consumer Protection Account. As of July 31, that account was estimated to have a balance of about $554,139.91.

Mapping and probing

The entire cemetery has been mapped and probed. The property is divided into sections called “gardens” with the following information now available.

Garden of Gethsemane

Findings for this garden were listed in the fifth report, issued on July 15. That report indicated the following information about this garden: The garden was originally platted to have only 845 spaces, but 1,153 grave spaces were identified in both the platted and non-platted areas of the cemetery: 86 are not usable because of dimensions or proximity to trees, 305 marked (with 36 having markers with dates of death but appearing to be vacant), 392 occupied but unmarked, and 370 that remain vacant (including 40 that are not useable because of location or dimensions). For those vacant spaces, many had burials listed in the cemetery’s records.

Spaces were as large as 3.5 feet by 9 feet and as small as 3 feet by 6.5 feet. Platted border areas were used up to the edge of the road. The fifth report noted that it may be necessary for RMI to place additional dirt on top of some grave spaces to maintain the cemetery grounds, because some spaces lack adequate depth. There is no consistency on grave space dimensions or use of the platting system.

Garden of Devotion

There were 305 spaces probed and found to be vacant. Another 1,264 spaces were found to be occupied but not marked. An additional 667 spaces were found to be marked (of those, 65 marked with dates of death were unoccupied, and 54 spaces were determined to be unusable).

The Garden of Devotion was originally supposed to have 1,834 spots, but it has expanded to 2,290. Only 2,123 interments were recorded, but even that recording is inaccurate. Of the spaces probed, 45 appear to be shallow enough to show movement upon being probed.

Garden of Hope

No original plat map has ever been found. During the Receivership, 650 grave spaces have been identified in this garden. Of those, 67 appear vacant, 531 are occupied but not marked, 45 are marked and occupied, and seven are unusable because of dimensions. Two spaces were shallower than expected.

Cemetery records indicate there were 288 interments in this garden; the inspection found 576 used grave spaces (288 more than recorded).

Garden of New Hope

This section was originally believed to be located between the Garden of Gethsemane and the Garden of Paradise, but it actually sits at the western end of the Garden of Trinity. A tree and a marker indicate where the Garden of New Hope ends and the Garden of Trinity begins.

Because the receivership has not uncovered an engineer’s drawing of this garden, it can’t be estimated how many spaces were originally planned. Based on an old undated and unstamped drawing found in the cemetery records, it appears there were expansion lots made along the southern border of the property. Those would have added 44 more grave spaces possibly over what was originally mapped.

An inspection of the Garden of New Hope revealed a total of 269 grave spaces: 69 were probed and found vacant (with one unusable), 117 were occupied but not marked, and 835 were found marked (of those, 21 were vacant and two were shallower than expected).

Garden of Prayer

This garden directly adjoins the Garden of Devotion. There is no section marker at the road to indicate exactly where the Garden of Devotion ends and the Garden of Prayer begins.

The garden was originally platted to hold 1,548 grave spaces. However, an inspection revealed that there are actually 1,901 grave spaces in this garden’s platted and non-platted areas. Of that 1,901 total, 107 were probed and found vacant (nine of which were not useable), 1,198 were found occupied but not marked, 44 were unusable, and 552 were found marked. Of the 552 marked spaces, 34 were marked with dates of death but appear to be vacant. Lots 41-45 and the extension to those lots are shallower than expected.

This garden also has an infant section, with all 88 spaces used. At least seven of the infant burial spaces show signs of shallowness.

Cemetery records show 1,634 burials in the Garden of Prayer (82 fewer than were actually observed).

Garden of Everlasting Life

2,617 spaces were inspected, although this garden was originally platted for 2,296 spaces. Of the inspected spaces, 337 were found vacant, 1,278 were occupied but not marked, 94 were marked (with 73 of those having dates of death but appearing to be vacant), and 55 were unusable.

There were 35 spaces found to be shallower than expected, and all platted walkways and border areas have been used for grave spaces. It also appears as if grave markers have been moved and not reset in their original places.

The cemetery operator recorded 2,603 burials in this garden. The inspection found 2,222 used spaces, which is 381 fewer graves than recorded (although the record of burials may include duplicate entries).

Garden of Peace

This garden directly adjoins the Garden of Everlasting Life and was originally platted for 662 spaces, including four that were shallower than expected. An inspection found 770 graves, with 177 vacant, 353 occupied but not marked, and 240 marked spaces (with 31 of those marked with dates of death but appearing to be vacant).

It appears that grave markers were moved and not reset in their original places. All platted border areas have been used for grave spaces.

The inspection found 562 used grave spaces, which is 212 fewer than recorded (although the burial record may include duplicate entries).

Garden of Trinity

This garden lies between the Garden of New Hope and the Garden of Paradise. There was a map sketched on graph paper in the cemetery’s materials, indicating 623 grave spaces for this garden.

The inspection revealed a total of 821 spaces in this garden. Of those, 258 were probed and found vacant (with three of those not usable), 380 were occupied but not marked, and 202 were marked (including 57 that were vacant and one that is unusable due to its location). One grave space was shallower than expected.

Based on the inspection, the Garden of Trinity was expanded along its southern border and to the edge of the driveway on its northern border.

Garden of Paradise

This garden begins at the eastern border of the Garden of Trinity and extends to the cemetery’s eastern border. It stretches across a narrow piece of the cemetery to border the Garden of Gethsemane to its north. Based on a map sketched on graph paper, this garden was originally platted to hold 1,000 graves but appears to have been expanded to 1,688.

The inspection uncovered a total of 2,025 grave spaces in the Garden of Paradise. Of those, 351 were probed and found vacant (with nine found unusable), 1,233 were occupied but not marked, and 438 were marked (with 61 of the marked spaces vacant and three unusable due to location). One space was shallower than expected.

The cemetery operator recorded 1,673 interments in this garden; as indicated above, inspection found 1,610 to be occupied.

Office area

An area adjacent to the office at the cemetery’s rear was platted and probed for 84 potential grave spaces. It appears that all are unused.


The entire Oct. 1 report may be read online in PDF format (allow for slow loading of large file).

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to bartlett.editor@journalinc.com.