A Grave Situation - Part Three
WILLISTON - Old bones hold the memories of the past—but that's more than the Levy County School Board could find when digging up Confederate cavalry veteran Rufus K. Limbaugh's grave.
The mortician they hired for the job, Joe Knauff, couldn't find any human remains during the excavation.
"He advised me he did not expect to uncover any substantive remains. The youngest of these graves is an excess of 100 years old," said Charles Koval, attorney for the Levy County School Board.
"I mean, these graves are old. They just aren't that old," said Dr. Anthony Falsetti, board certified anthropologist.
Dr. Anthony Falsetti is a nationally recognized forensic anthropologist who has consulted for National Geographic and Court TV.
In his experience with historic graves of this time period, he says he normally finds some sort of artifacts of the time, often in the form of clothing, metal rings or buttons.
But most of all, he expects something else: bones and teeth.
"The fact that nothing was found is somewhat surprising," said Falsetti.
Falsetti thinks a state archaeologist, not Knauff, was the right man for the job. And he isn't the only expert who thinks so.
"The fact that one was not retained here and that that was not done should raise red flags because that's not the appropriate procedure to follow," said Dr. Willet Boyer, registered professional archaeologist.
Records with the Florida Master Site File, a registry of historic places in the state, indicate that an unmarked grave is still on the site, the resting place of R.K. Limbaugh's son-in-law, Dunlap Finney.
According to Florida Statute 872, if there is an unmarked grave with human remains, local law enforcement must be contacted to avoid criminal penalties.
Law enforcement then must contact the medical examiner and if the remains are over 75 years of age, a state archaeologist would be called in.
And that didn't happen.
"I would say they probably felt they were doing the right thing by hiring an expert as they saw it in cemeteries, which would be a funeral director, one would assume that. However, there are people better trained to make these evaluations. They're readily available and statute requires that they be involved in this process," said Dr. Falsetti.
"The situation is not, I can say most emphatically, is not how I would have handled it if I were the archaeologist handling this dig and being asked to conduct that kind of removal," said Boyer.
But the attorney for the school board cites Chapter 470, Florida Statutes--now Florida Statute 497--regarding the moving of graves.
It says a licensed funeral director is all they needed to move the graves, and because they didn't find any bones, they didn't have to call the state archaeologist.
"The decision here is not to disturb the area. The school board deems it appropriate to leave it intact the way it is, and therefore, if there are unmarked graves there, there they remain," said Koval.
Just because the mortician hired by the school board didn't find any remains doesn't mean the bones of R.K. Limbaugh and his family aren't still at the site. Falsetti says the funeral home director could've been digging in the wrong spot.
"Florida is not a particularly stable soil type so graves can move and bodies can move under the soil," said Falsetti.
Joe Knauff declined to comment, leaving details of Limbaughs' exhumation a mystery.
"My question would be again, what was the process that was used?" said Falsetti.
The school board's decision to keep Limbaugh's descendants in the dark isn't what either expert would have done. Boyer went so far as to say it was unethical, but the school board doesn't see it that way.
"Are there ethical questions? Everybody's ethics is their own internal belief system. I think the school board was and acted appropriately in the way that they conducted themselves in dealing with this matter," said Koval.
For now, old bones won't speak to the living—though maybe they still have something to say to the people of Levy County.
R.K. Limbaugh's great granddaughter Jean Mann said she consulted an attorney to try to prevent the moving of the remains.
But her attorney told her the Levy County School Board followed the letter of the law and there was nothing he could do to help her.
The school board has decided to make the area where the Limbaugh cemetery was a memorial site on school grounds, if the school is eventually built.
The CA Pound Lab at the University of Florida tells us they plan to offer their services to the Levy County School Board to help them try to find the unmarked grave of Dunlap Finney.
- A Grave Situation - Part Two
- A Grave Situation - Part One
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