2nd Burke County grave robber sentenced to prison

The second of two men who desecrated graves in a Burke County cemetery has been sentenced to prison.


Ralph Hillis Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday and was given five years in prison and three-years probation. Jerry Atkinson Jr. was sentenced in August to five years in prison followed by 10 years on probation.

The pair admitted to digging up the remains in five graves in the Old Church Cemetery. The graves belonged to veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil wars and to two infants who died in the 1980s, Assistant District Attorney Amanda Heath told the judge Wednesday.

The desecration was discovered by members of the Burke County American Legion who volunteer to take care of the cemetery.

When Leroy Bell saw the destruction on April 13, he couldn’t believe someone would commit such a despicable crime, Bell said Thursday.

Not only were the graves dug up, remains were scattered, said Bell, an American Legion member. They believe the grave robbers were using a metal detector to try to find metal. One of the infants whose grave was dug up was buried in a cast iron casket.

Bell said they believe the thieves made off with some relics because they found a Civil War uniform lying on the ground that was missing buttons and insignia.

The American Legion volunteers secured and sealed the grave, Bell said. They are working with historians in the process of getting the graves formally closed.

At the time of the arrests, officers found evidence that Atkinson, 39, and Hillis, 41, were involved with the manufacturing of methamphetamine.

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the back story

Burke County Grave Robbers

BACKGROUND: On April 13, volunteers who care for the Old Church Cemetery, which contains graves for Burke County residents including veterans of the Revolutionary and Civil wars, found several graves had been desecrated.



Tips to the Burke County Sheriff’s Office led to the arrest of Jerry Atkinson Jr. and Ralph Hillis Jr.

On Wednesday, Hillis pleaded guilty. He and Atkinson each received five-year prison terms for their crimes.

The members of the Burke County American Legion are working with historians and others to formally close the graves again.




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