Property seller digs up tombstones from family cemetery

CUMMING, Ga. — From the cockpit of a small plane above Mathis Airport in Cumming, it's easy to miss the 10 slabs of marble embedded in the runway.

Once they were gone, LC Anglin missed them dearly.

"They were my people, they were my relatives that's buried there," Anglin told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.

Anglin's ancestors died decades before the first airplane was flown. After the original airstrip was built along the edge of the family's cemetery, the descendants agreed to lay the headstones flat to keep plane's wings from damaging them.

But the airport changed hands in 2004, and the new owner, Joe Voyles, decided to widen the runway, surrounding the stones in pavement. Then, this summer, as Voyles prepared to sell the property, the headstones disappeared.

"Once the family knew it was done, it was already done," said Gwinetta Anglin, LC Anglin’s wife.

The headstones began cracking and crumbling under the weight of taxiing planes and vehicles.

One descendant sued Voyles in 2007. Channel 2 obtained a copy of the confidential settlement.

Voyles was supposed to place red reflectors around that section of runway, and alert pilots to avoid it. That does not appear to have happened. The family member who sued died shortly after the settlement.

This summer, when the Anglins went to the airport to visit the graves, the headstones were gone.

"I was just very hurt and emotional,” said LC Anglin. "I don't know how anybody could do this."

Fleischer tracked down airport Voyles to ask about it.

"I just decided that, well, you know, there's no family member at that time that I knew," said Voyles, admitting that he thought the man who had sued him was the last of the Anglin descendants.

"Well, there wouldn't be any history left if I didn't do anything so, you know, the intent is to repair them and put them back," Voyles said.

The family's skepticism grew upon learning of Voyles' current plans to sell the property.

At the same time the stones started disappearing, Voyles filed a federal court document disclosing his intention to sell the property to a homebuilder for $1.4 million.

Buried on page 19 of the document: “There are no cemeteries, graves, burial grounds or historic artifacts within the property.”

"He had no plans to put them back, or he wouldn't have filled them in," said LC Anglin, noting that the holes were all filled with fresh asphalt.

Fleischer asked Voyles, "Well, you can understand if you sign something saying there are no cemeteries or graves and suddenly the headstones disappear, people get suspicious?"

Voyles replied, "I understand, but I mean, it is what it is and I'm, you know, trying to do the right thing and keep them preserved."

He showed Fleischer the stones laid out on a table in a nearby hangar. But he didn't have time to do much, because the sheriff showed up with a search warrant.

"There were a couple of different explanations as to why he removed the headstones; I don't buy any of them," said Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper.

The day after Fleischer confronted Voyles about the court filing, he quietly amended the paperwork to disclose information regarding graves.

"It's, on the face of it, a completely false statement. And the motivation for it, in my opinion, would be to sell the land," said Piper.

The homebuilder opted not to prosecute for the felony false statement, given the pending sales agreement.

But deputies did arrest Voyles for two misdemeanor counts of criminal trespassing, compounded by the military service of two of the deceased.

LC Anglin found pension documents from the widow of Henderson Anglin who fought in the Indian War, and his brother James Anglin, LC Anglin’s great, great grandfather, who served in the War of 1812.

"I've been doing genealogy work for 25 years. They are very important. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them," said LC Anglin, applauding the response by the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office.

"It is not a misunderstanding. It's not a mistake. It was a crime. It was done on purpose," said Piper. "In 28 years in law enforcement, I've never encountered a financial motivation behind disturbing or removing headstones."

"To me it's unconscionable," Gwinetta Anglin said. "How could you take a family's history, and have such disregard?"

Forsyth County's Historical Society President Martha McConnell agrees.

"That'd be just like burning a history book," McConnell said, adding that small family graves sites like the Anglin's need to be protected.

"The way those stones were made and carved is part of history and they can never be replaced," said McConnell, "It is against the law to move any stone even if it was marked by a rock."

The sheriff confiscated the grave markers to give to the Anglins until the property sells.

The homebuilder has agreed to preserve and protect the cemetery with a common area the family can access once the new neighborhood is built.

"It has warmed my heart to know there are a number of people who want to preserve historical cemeteries, and that they're willing to put their time, effort, and money to doing so," said Gwinetta Anglin. "It's so important to the history of families and the history of Georgia."