HALF A DOZEN caskets rested next to freshly dug graves in a potter's field full of clover and buttercups in Camden County Thursday morning, filled with the bodies of the unclaimed homeless, the destitute and the otherwise forgotten.
But about 50 yards away, up a steep wooded hill that overlooked the field on county property in the Lakeland section of Gloucester Township, someone else already had been buried beneath a large elm tree, a female child or infant, authorities believe, who hadn't been forgotten.
A cross stood atop the little grave, along with a stuffed giraffe, a statue of a cherub holding a butterfly, and some solar-powered lights. Pansies and daisies had been recently planted and a new floor mat lay nearby, for whoever knelt to pray when visiting.
People walking in the woods spotted the grave on April 20 and contacted authorities.
Despite its proximity to the county's potter's field, unauthorized burials are not permitted there. County investigators exhumed the remains. The deceased female had been cremated professionally, the prosecutor's office believes, and had been placed in a velvet bag inside a cardboard box before being buried.
Though investigators know the name of the deceased, they haven't determined how the person died, who her relatives are or where she was cremated. Investigators are hoping someone will come forward to help them solve the sad mystery.
"We didn't want to have to disturb the resting place and would like to be able to find an alternative burial site for whoever's remains these are," said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.
Authorities are not identifying the deceased yet, but they do want the family to come forward. Tipsters are urged to contact investigator Paul Audino at the prosecutor's office, 856-225- 8449.