Man surprised to find wife's final resting place below mausoleum

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by BYRON HARRIS / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on May 3, 2013 at 8:40 AM

FORT WORTH -- There is space for more than 9,000 coffins in a huge room underneath the mausoleum at Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth.

The body of Craig Robinson's wife used to be among them. Dr. Valerie Robinson, a well-known child psychiatrist in Lubbock, died last fall after a long battle with cancer.

Craig Robinson paid for her funeral and casket in Lubbock, and decided to have her transported to Greenwood Cemetery Mausoleum in Fort Worth, where both of their families are buried. He paid $3,505, his contract shows. He knew he was paying for a brass plaque on a wall, and a crypt, where her casket would be placed.

What he didn't realize, he said, is that her casket would be placed among stacks of caskets in unmarked concrete slots in a large room below the mausoleum.

Greenwood workers escorted him to the crypt where her casket was stored when he returned to Fort Worth from Lubbock weeks later. It took them some time to find her location. The crypt was a sealed, unmarked slot. None of the slots bore any markings.

"The more I thought about it, the more I thought I'd put my wife in a pauper's grave," Robinson said. "It boggles my mind that there could be thousands of people warehoused without any identifying marks, numbers, and names."

Greenwood CEO Arlie Davenport said the cemetery knows exactly where every casket is below the mausoleum. He said the two employees who took Robinson into the crypt area had never tried to find a specific casket before.

Every customer is briefed on the crypts' location below the mausoleum, Davenport said, but that Robinson was not, because he bought his wife's memorial from Lubbock.

"We wish our protocol had been better and that our housekeeper and another person who'd never been down there hadn't been the escorts," Davenport said. "I wish we'd had another person go with [Robinson], like myself."

Davenport said Greenwood's mausoleum - decorated with marble sculpture, broad hallways, fountains, and a retractable roof - is unique in the United States. Equally unique, he said, is the crypt system, holding thousands of caskets below. He said the economy of scale achieved by mass storage of crypts underneath the mausoleum allowed Greenwood to spend more on the decor above ground.

Greenwood is part of a non-profit corporation, a one-of-a-kind business in Texas that runs two other cemeteries, Mt. Olivet and Arlington.

Davenport made $432,000 as CEO in the most recent year available in IRS records, which is 2010. President Jon Stephenson made $243,000. Six other executives make at least $125,000.

Families save money at Greenwood, too, he added, but he would not specify on how much cheaper Greenwood is, if at all, than competitors.

"It's hard to compare, when you have all this," he said, gesturing to the sky-lit hall that holds the recently entombed crypt of Van Cliburn. "Like in real estate, this is all about location, location, location."

Greenwood allowed Robinson to upgrade his and his wife's crypts to a different part of the mausoleum, where caskets are not stored in the underground concrete tombs. Robinson paid about $5,000 more for the new location, which includes a larger and more ornately-labeled marble faceplate. Greenwood charged him $1,300 to move his wife's casket, about half of its normal fee.

Robinson is pleased with the move, but is still not entirely at peace with the process.

"I equate it to buying a car," he said. "I expect them to say, 'Undercoating's going to cost you this much more.'"

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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