Mark Twain State Park beach building also damaged

In brazen action, several gravestones in the historic Stoutsville Cemetery were damaged or destroyed in a vandalism attack sometime between Thursday night and the beginning of the Memorial Day Weekend on Friday morning. 

Monroe County Presiding Commissioner Mike Minor, who serves as trustee of the cemetery, said he was contacted about the vandalism on Friday afternoon.

“We counted about 17 or 18 headstones and monuments that were knocked over or broken,” Minor said. “It was just awful.” 

And sometime in the same period, vandals crossed a closed gate at the Mark Twain State Park beach and broke a reported 14 windows at the bathhouse. That incident is being investigated by Missouri State Park rangers, although there are obvious questions in the community about whether the two acts are related.

Missouri Park Ranger Corporal Doug Buie said that the damage was repaired by late Friday morning. He said that the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department and the Missouri Park Rangers were conducting a joint investigation.

 The cemetery vandalism touched a nerve in Monroe County.

By Sunday afternoon, many in the community and beyond were outraged at the actions. Minor offered a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the vandals, and by afternoon, people offering $100 each put the reward fund well over $1,000 – and growing.

A Facebook post from the page of Minor and his wife, Lisa, has generated more than 1,500 shares by 3 p.m. on Sunday.

“Absolutely heart breaking Why don’t people respect grave sites they were our loved one,” one woman wrote. 

Said another: “Hate to see the original pioneers’ graves treated like this.”

“What is wrong with people? Desecration of a grave is so far beyond wrong. Hoping they catch these miscreants and put them to work fixing this mess,” wrote another. 

The Stoutsville Cemetery is an historic reminder of the early days of Monroe County. Many graves date to the mid-19th century, with several ornate monuments by modern standards. Generations of several families are interred at the cemetery.

Monroe County Sheriff Department Sgt. Tony Coleman, who answered the call about that vandalism on Friday afternoon, said he hopes public awareness will help find those who destroyed the headstones.

“In an incident like this, someone may be bragging or someone who was involved and sees the reward money will come forward,” he said. “Just by the devious nature of the damage to the cemetery and type of damage at the state park, it may be related but we just do not know at this point.” 

Stoutsville Cemetery is well off any major road. It is located near Missouri Route 107, about a mile from an unpaved road that runs off Monroe County Road 464 – about 12 miles from Paris, and about 10 miles from Monroe City.

Coleman said that while it is impossible to rule out someone in the area just driving around for the holiday weekend, that the remote location of the cemetery points toward the vandals having a specific target in mind.

Minor, meanwhile, said that families are now faced with replacing markers.

“In some cases, there is no family…so we (the cemetery association) will take care of that,” Minor said.