13 Investigates: Cemetery fixes mistake after husband, wife buried in wrong graves

Larry and Pauline Pinnicks' headstones and burial sites have been moved to the right location after a #13Investigates report. (WTHR)

GREENWOOD, Ind. (WTHR) — A Greenwood cemetery has taken steps to fix a series of errors that resulted in a husband and wife being buried in the wrong graves with a misplaced headstone.

Larry (Lawrence) and Pauline Pinnick. (Courtesy: Pinnick Family)
Larry (Lawrence) and Pauline Pinnick. (Courtesy: Pinnick Family)

The morning of July 24, Forest Lawn Memory Gardens installed a new headstone that is now correctly placed above the burial plots of Larry and Pauline Pinnick. The move comes less than a month after WTHR pressed cemetery managers for answers, following months of unsuccessful appeals by the Pinnicks’ children to convince Forest Lawn to correct its mistakes.

“As soon as we bring Channel 13 out here, things got done, and they did a good job. It looks very good,” Kathy Dockery, one of Larry and Pauline’s four daughters, told WTHR Wednesday morning. “It’s just sad that it took us down this road to get things done that should have happened a long time ago.”

How the mix-up happened

2019 has been a difficult year for Dockery and her siblings, not just because their beloved parents are no longer here, but because the deceased couple was not where they were supposed to be.

After their mother died early this year, the Pinnick children told 13 Investigates that Forest Lawn made several mistakes in handling their parents’ burials, resulting in Larry and Pauline being buried in the wrong graves with a misplaced headstone that did not properly identify their final resting places. They were furious the cemetery would not take action to correct the problems.

“We paid them to do this properly, and they screwed it up,” son Mike Pinnick told WTHR last month. “Just fix mom and dad’s graves. That’s all we want. We want them in the right graves with the right headstones.”

“I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” added Dockery. “What family wouldn’t ask for that?”

The problem at Forest Lawn started back in 2006, after 77-year-old Larry Pinnick died of complications from diabetes. His wife and children thought he was buried in the plot they had selected, right next to an adjacent plot that had been reserved for Pauline.

In 2017, as Pauline was in her late 80s, the family went to the cemetery to finalize payments and pre-arrangements for their mother’s funeral and burial plan. A cemetery worker accompanied them to the grave site and shared disturbing news.

“She told us ‘We have a problem. Your dad is in the wrong grave. We’ll have to look into that,’” Mike said. “We never heard anything back.”

So when Pauline died of kidney failure earlier this year just weeks before her 90th birthday, the Pinnick children needed answers. And as their mother’s funeral approached, they learned the cemetery had made another mistake: the headstone that marked the Pinnicks’ graves was misplaced. The family was notified that Pauline’s portion of the headstone was placed over a burial plot that belonged to someone else.

In January, Pauline’s ashes were buried in an unmarked grave that should have been occupied by her husband — two plots away from the headstone that bears her name.

"I think that's terrible!” Mike told WTHR. “We come to visit our parents and their graves all the time. Down the road when we’re all gone, it’s going to be a problem. Our grandchildren aren’t going to know where their great grandmother and great grandfather are buried because it’s not marked properly.”

“This really hurts me. This isn’t right, and I want this fixed,” added Dockery. “My mom was my best friend, and she deserves to have her name on her headstone where she’s buried.”

“We want the correct headstone over the correct grave. It’s just that simple,” agreed their sister, Patty Smith.

“Shame on them”

For months since their mother’s funeral, the Pinnick children had been asking Forest Lawn to make things right by moving their parents’ headstone a few feet south to its proper location and by switching the removable name plates on the headstone.

A Forest Lawn manager and the cemetery’s corporate office both denied their request to make changes.

“Shame on them. Shame on this funeral home for making us have to do all this. All we’re asking is that they do the right thing,” Dockery told WTHR in June, standing alongside her parents’ gravesites.

While at Forest Lawn, 13 Investigates planned to contact cemetery management to ask about the Pinnicks’ concerns. But before we could do that, the cemetery contacted us.

When they heard about our TV camera at the Pinnick burial plots, two Forest Lawn managers came out to meet with us and the Pinnick family.

Sales manager Ray Jordan and cemetery administration manager Terry Krengle told 13 Investigates they had no knowledge of the problems but promised to investigate.

Change of heart

A few days later, a spokesman for StoneMor Partners, the corporate owners of Forest Lawn Cemetery, sent WTHR the following statement regarding the Pinnick burial mixup:

“Forest Lawn's mission is to help families memorialize every life with dignity, including providing and maintaining a tranquil and beautiful place for memorialization. In this instance, we have fallen short of our standards. We will be contacting the family directly to discuss a resolution to their concerns as quickly as possible. We would like to reassure our families and the local community that we are committed to serving them and their loved ones.”

The statement marked the first time the cemetery and its corporate headquarters publicly acknowledged any responsibility for the errors. StoneMor told 13 Investigates it would be “reaching out to the Pinnick family shortly to address their concerns and reach a reasonable resolution.” The company did not address why it had not done so previously, despite multiple attempts by the Pinnicks to find a solution.

The Pinnicks received a new headstone in the right spaces after it was discovered they were buried in the wrong spots. (WTHR)

The Pinnick family said they had heard promises of discussions and resolutions before – only to be disappointed by no follow up. And they were frustrated that StoneMor and Forest Lawn said they would not make changes, changing their minds only after a TV reporter arrived to ask questions.

Nevertheless, the Pinnick children were hopeful this time might be different and that their parents’ final resting place would be the one they envisioned.

Wednesday morning, Forest Lawn delivered on its pledge to make things right. It unveiled a brand new headstone with the position of Larry and Pauline’s names reversed on the bronze marker. Cemetery workers used a front loader to lower the headstone into its proper location above the couple’s gravesite.

“I’m very happy. It looks really nice, and I think they did a great job,” Dockery said, once installation of the new headstone was complete. “I’m at peace that my parents are at peace at this point.”

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