Originally created 07/30/01

Coroner applauds teamwork



AIKEN - Last week was a busy one for Aiken County Corner Sue Townsend as she worked with York, Pa., authorities to exhume Lillie Belle Allen - a victim of the 1969 York riots.

The intricacies of the process were no less than she expected, but the nightmares of what could go wrong never materialized in her waking hours, she said.

"After all the hard work, I felt good about it," Mrs. Townsend said.

She coordinated multiple agencies and kept media outlets informed and in check throughout the process.

After much preparation, Ms. Allen was exhumed from her Pine Lawn Cemetery grave Wednesday for seven hours.

But the physical evidence York investigators collected during that time and took back Thursday might point a finger at those responsible for her death.

"They came down here with certain goals in mind, and they did not go home empty-handed," Mrs. Townsend said. "Theirs was not a wasted trip."

She said she thinks the investigators are done with Aiken, for now.

"I really think they are, until they get closer to the court time. They made it clear they may have to call some people from Aiken up there."

Calls to the York County District Attorney's Office were not returned Friday.

The coroner said the execution of the digging, the cracking of the vault and the removal of the casket were flawless because of cooperation during the two-day process.

Local law enforcement agencies, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, George Funeral Homes of Aiken and Clark Interment Service of Augusta were among the many participants in the meticulous process.

Lillie Belle Allen - or Lillie Bell Allen according to her death certificate - was shot to death during a race riot in Pennsylvania.

She is remembered in Aiken as a 27-year-old preacher's daughter who never returned home from a visit to see her sister.

Mrs. Townsend said there was some confusion about Ms. Allen's birthdate. Her birth year was 1941, "but on the vault it looked more like 1942."

The coroner said the poor conditions of the plot and its tombstone - which was a typed piece of paper enclosed in plastic and metal - have increased awareness that the old black cemetery needs better tending.

Improvements to Ms. Allen's grave after the exhumation included a new silver casket paid for by York County as a gesture of kindness for the family's participation.

A temporary headstone has replaced the paper document until a permanent one can be finished and positioned.

The new, permanent headstone was the idea of York resident Susan Rebert, the wife of York County District Attorney H. Stanley Rebert.

She read about the lack of a permanent marker in a newspaper a year ago, noting that Ms. Allen's name was even misspelled on the marker.

"I feel this is something York owes this family," Mrs. Rebert said. "They had such a bad feeling about York."

Mrs. Rebert approached friends who owned a monument company, and they agreed to donate a marker, which is expected to be ready by early November.

Mrs. Townsend said the recent emphasis on the cemetery gives her hope.

"I hope this helps shift focus on care-giving for the entire cemetery," Mrs. Townsend said.

Judging from the phone calls she has gotten, it will: "I got a call from someone who wants to put a plaque up for her brother. Wonderful Aiken is responding, as usual."

Staff writer Matt Boedy contributed to this report. Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Eric Williamson at (803) 648-1395 or eric@augusta.com.