OKLAHOMA CITY - Al Stearman's dad, Leon, has been gone for 67 years.
“We all just loved him very much,” he said.
His family wants to honor their brave dad, a World War I Veteran.
“I was here one day and it dawned on me I'm getting old too and I want to get my dad a headstone,” Al said.
Leon has a grave marker, but no headstone.
Al called sunny lane cemetery where his dad is buried says they told him he could purchase a headstone from them for $1500.
He called around and got a cheaper quote from a marker company in the area.
“About 5 minutes later he calls me back [and says] ‘You can't have a tombstone.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said they're telling me something I ain't never heard of.
Apparently Al's family never purchased what the cemetery calls monument privilege, so even though they own the rights to the burial plot, the cemetery won't let them put up a headstone.
“I asked her, 'What do I got to do to get a monument privilege?' No hesitation at all. ‘$3500.’ I said, ‘Do what?’”
We were still interviewing Al when the cemetery's general manager walked up.
“We can certainly go in and talk about this," she said. “I'm not going to talk about this in front of the news crew and unfortunately i'm going to have to ask you to leave.”
Sunny Lane Cemetery is owned by Houston based Service Corporation International, the largest funeral and cemetery services company in the world.
The sent us this statement:
"As part of our commitment to all of our client families, we guard their privacy and because of this, we do not discuss specific client concerns with the media. Instead it is our policy to work to resolve any possible concerns directly with client families." - SCI
We asked SCI to clarify their monument privilege policy, but they won't explain what it is.
There are a few statutes on the books for cemeteries, but no regulation!
Oklahoma's Chief of the Attorney General's Public Protection Unit, Julie Bays, tells the In Your Corner team the state has a board that monitors funeral homes, but those rules and regulations don't apply to cemeteries.
“The reasoning behind this some cemeteries are city owned, some are county owned and those are run by separate statutes and then some are run by churches,” Bays said.
That means large corporations, like SCI, that dominate the industry, don't have to answer to anyone either.
“If you have these for profit companies out of state coming in and buying these cemeteries I think it's something our office should start looking at,” she said. “Is it profit over care of the cemetery and the plots.”
We know SCI has settled its share of class action lawsuits over the years.
A lawsuit from Oklahoma County was dismissed without prejudice.
It was filed by a widow in 2015.
Court records allege an employee at SCI owned Bill Eisenhour Funeral Home used "bullying and intimidating tactics" to try to get more money out of the family and when the widow couldn't pay right away the funeral home failed to embalm and prepare her husband's body leaving it so swollen the casket would not close.
It goes onto say the body was so blackened and decomposed mourners couldn't even pay their respects.
Al says he's thought about getting an attorney.
He said, “It means a great deal to honor my father.”
The In Your Corner bottom line:
- Grave plots can range in price.
- Keep track of the original contract and make sure you understand the terms of your agreement.
“You own the rights to the plot, but any extraordinary fees for putting monuments on the plot should be in the contract,” Bays said.
Al says the cemetery is now telling him the plot his family purchased back in 1951 is for a plaque marker only and there's not enough room to put up a headstone.
Al has since filed a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.
We’ll check back.