What do you get when you mix a decrepit old cemetery, a mysterious grave, and Jimmy Hoffa?
This report from “Newsday” (Nassau edition) for June 12, 1992:
By Ellen YanAs far as I know, the identity of the person lying in the grave remains a mystery.
The dead tell no tales. That left plainclothes Officer William Maldonado staring down yesterday at a mysterious grave outlined by bricks and marked by a cross made of rusty pipes at the Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue. According to rumor the grave showed up in the mid-1970s among the chest-high weeds but no one seems to know if anything or anyone lies under it.
“It’s a lot easier asking ‘Who punched you in the bar?’” said Maldonado of the Fifth Precinct’s crime section. “Unless we start getting some hard facts I don’t see how it’s going to be solved.”
It seems appropriate that the oddly marked grave appeared at the historic and shadow-filled Lakeview which dates back to the 1700s and is owned by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. There rest five sailors frozen or drowned in a stormy shipwreck of the Louis V. Place in February 1895 as well as the 1800s suffragette leader and author Elizabeth Oakes-Smith.
Four obelisks mark the plot of the rich Smith family who owned the Smithport Hotel in Patchogue’s heyday at the turn of the century and donated money in the early 1900s to maintain the cemetery. Alarmed at being buried alive the Smith daughters gave orders to be left in their homes fully clothed days after dying and one daughter Ruth wrote in her will “I do not wish to be buried until several days after my death like my sisters.”
In recent times the 65-acre site degenerated into a jungle of fallen headstones and a hangout for the homeless because the church hasn’t had the money for upkeep since at least 1959, said Clifford Still, a member of the church’s building and ground committee. Only recently have church members futilely fought the overgrowth.
During cleanups that started in January, Patchogue firefighters and villagers carted off mattresses and more than seven bags of clothes, condoms, and underwear, collected at least 13 cases of beer cans and liquor bottles, sawed about 150 trees and burned the weeds.
“It was like going into Burma--we could have used machetes,” said firefighter Peter Barrie who has relatives buried at Lakeview and has been trying to compile the cemetery’s history.
With the growth cleared the clean-up volunteers found the mysterious grave by rusty wrought-iron fences in the northeast corner. Concerned that the grave might hold a missing person, they told Brian Foley, aide to his father, John Foley (D-Blue Point.) Brian Foley called the police.
But their task is complicated, because the church lacks burial records. Whatever documents might have been kept were given to a man by the name of Guttridge who was interested in the cemetery, Still said. When he died, Still said, the records were lost.
Police haven’t gotten any concrete leads in their undertaking since being notified June 1. Anyone with information may call the crime section at 854-8526. Those with deeds or historic details may call Barrie at 475-6745.
Police must decide whether to dig up the grave, but Maldonado believes if foul play ended someone’s life the talk would have been on the streets. His one lead lies in the rumor that a drug-overdose victim was buried there in the mid-1970s.
“That’s when Jimmy Hoffa disappeared,” Fifth Precinct Inspector Martin Raber joked, referring to the ex-Teamsters boss with alleged Mafia ties. “Wouldn’t it be something if it were Jimmy Hoffa? It’s as good as any theory.”