State scans for open burial plots at Galilee

Galilee Memorial Gardens’ gates were draped with memorials in this July 2014 view. Photo by Theron Malone.

Although the biggest question about Galilee Memorial Gardens in recent months has been “where are the bodies buried?” the state is calling in experts with ground-penetrating radar for a different purpose: To find out where the bodies aren’t.

Until stormy weather broke Tuesday morning, Ground Penetrating Radar Systems Inc. was prepared to begin scanning the troubled Bartlett cemetery’s grounds to find empty spots where previous pre-need buyers may find a usable grave site. People who pre-purchased burial plots before the cemetery was closed are eligible for burial on the grounds if enough empty spaces are identified. [Update on Feb. 4: The company was able to perform some ground scans before Tuesday’s deluge.]

The radar equipment doesn’t work correctly when the ground is wet, so Tuesdays’s rainfall meant the scanning was postponed.

In any case, Ground Penetrating Radar Systems will scan the entire grounds of approximately nine acres at a cost of about $8,600. The scan is expected to take about 10 days and yield an updated report of available spaces.

Troubled history

Galilee made headlines in 2013 and 2014 over allegations of land theft to bury bodies, multiple bodies being buried in the same plot, and haphazard or missing records about where bodies were placed.

In March of 2015, owner Jemar Lambert pleaded guilty in a deal that left him with 10 years’ probation. He still faces costly class-action civil lawsuits.

The cemetery was closed in January 2014 and put into receivership (meaning that the property is under someone’s official custody while legal issues are being sorted out).

Julie Mix McPeak, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI), was appointed as receiver. TDCI, among its other duties, regulates funeral home and cemetery practices. Receivership Management Inc. (RMI) has been managing the property.

As of the Jan. 8, 2016, interim report, the total costs for this receivership had reached approximately $394,966.55. Of this amount, $21,450 for improvement care was reimbursed from the TDCI’s Improvement Care Trust.

The remaining amounts of the receivership costs have been paid from the TDCI’s Cemetery Consumer Protection Account. As of Nov. 30, 2015, that account had a balance of $537,828.12.

The latest report

The cemetery’s seventh interim report, filed Jan. 8 in Davidson County Chancery Court, provided progress updates:

  • RMI had received 288 responses from people with claims they had already purchased pre-need burial rights in spaces at the cemetery as of Jan. 4, 2016. These responses claimed a total of 573 grave spaces. RMI is currently validating the filed claims, using cemetery records and information supplied by the claimants. RMI issued 218 requests for more information in early January and is currently reviewing the responses received.
  • Before the next interim report (proposed for a March 18 filing date), the Receiver intends to finalize a resolution for these pre-need claims, if the court approves. This resolution is expected to include at least three components: Final publication notice about the ownership process and how to resolve conflicting grave space claims; assignment of new grave spaces to those who currently claim unusable graves spaces at Galilee; and a way to address people who may come forward with additional claims in the future.
  • One person, Lucille Wade Talley, was allowed to be buried at the cemetery, in the Garden of Hope section, on Oct. 31, 2015.
    Editor’s note: To follow the major court’s filings and other updates in the Galilee case, go online to

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