Burke County grave robbery suspect still on loose

A Waynesboro man suspected of digging up the Burke County graves of Revolutionary and Civil war soldiers to loot the bodies of medals and memorabilia remains on the run.

Jerry Atkinson Jr., 39, is believed to be in the area, possibly hiding in the dense woods and swamps near a mobile home he owned at 253 Joyner Road, Sgt. Dan Lowe, of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

Another suspect, Ralph Marion Hillis, 41, remains in the Richmond County jail.

Both face felony charges of manufacturing methamphetamine and maliciously removing the dead from a grave. They are accused of trying to rob the graves of an infant and Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers in Old Church Cemetery.

“I cannot say for certain whether bodies were stolen,” Lowe said. “But they were unearthed.”

Lowe said authorities took Hillis into custody about 5:30 p.m. Monday, after receiving a tip he was hiding at a home in Richmond County.

When sheriff’s deputies pulled up, Lowe said, six people fled. However, police were able to arrest Hillis and find an operating one-pot methamphetamine lab inside the house, Lowe said.

Investigators also found a similar lab, as well as a .22-caliber handgun and .30-caliber rifle inside Atkinson’s home Monday afternoon, when they went to serve warrants.

Lowe said Atkinson jumped out the bathroom window at the sight of deputies and ran into a swampy area.

Deputies do not think Atkinson, who is a convicted felon, is armed.

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