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Reward offered for return of Civil War headstones stolen from Bulls Gap cemetery

Jeff Bobo • Apr 10, 2019 at 9:46 AM

BULLS GAP — A Hawkins County man is offering a $1,000 reward for the return of two Civil War soldiers’ gravestones that were stolen from his property last month.

Joseph Funaro told the Times News if the headstones are returned intact, the reward will be paid "no questions asked."

Funaro only recently purchased the 200-plus acre farm on Beech Grove Road near Bulls Gap, and he doesn't have a family connection to the property or the graves.

"I know they're probably not valued anywhere near that much," Funaro told the Times News on Tuesday. "I just want to get those headstones back where they belong."

Funaro said the theft occurred sometime between March 21 and March 29.

The property was previously known as Beech Grove Farms.

Peter Couch (Co. D 8th TN Inf.), 1843-1878

Shortly after purchase of the property became final, someone came onto the property and damaged two Civil War-era cemeteries. One is known as Cedar Thicket Cemetery and the other is Dotson Cemetery.

"I think it was somebody who knew the previous owners and knew the property was in transition," Funaro said.

The trespassers apparently used a metal detector to search for artifacts. Both cemeteries had several holes dug in them.

Among the markers taken was the headstone belonging to Union soldier Peter Couch (Co. D 8th TN Inf.), 1843-1878.

The other known stolen headstone was lying on the ground near Couch’s grave and was also engraved with the name Couch. It is believed to belong to Peter Couch's brother William Couch.

There may have been other headstones stolen as well. The family photographed the cemetery but hadn’t had time to record all the graves there.

"It's pretty sad that somebody would do that," Funaro said. "There were like three standing markers, and the rest are kind of lying down under the grass, so what we intended to do was go back through, find all the headstones and get them up, clean it up and put a white picket around them. It hasn't been maintained for quite a long time, and what we wanted to do was restore it and put a fence around it."

Was it the act of grave robbers?

Funaro’s son Tom is planning a move soon from Florida to the Bulls Gap farm. He suspects the perpetrators were artifact hunters and grave robbers.

“As soon as we learned that there were cemeteries on the property and saw that they hadn't been maintained, we knew that one of our highest priorities would be to ensure they were properly marked, cleaned and maintained,” said Tom Funaro. “The fact that anyone would dig for artifacts in a graveyard, let alone steal headstones, reflects the basest of moral character.”

Tom Funaro added, “The thieves were using metal detectors and dug in both cemeteries in addition to other parts of the property. We believe they may have accessed one of the graves/caskets in the unmarked cemetery. Unlike most of the 'plugs' that we found that they had dug to expose artifacts there was one depression — usually indicative of an old casket collapsing — where an area approximately 4 feet by 2 to 2.5  feet was dug up.

Anyone who wants to return the headstones can contact Funaro at (407) 496-0068.

The headstone thefts were reported to the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office on Saturday. 

Anyone with information about the headstone thefts or their location is asked to contact the HCSO at (423) 272-4848.

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