Half-a-dozen caskets rested next to freshly dug graves in a potter's field full of clover and buttercups in Camden County this morning, the bodies of the unclaimed homeless, the destitute, and 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 had already 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 this morning, along with a stuffed giraffe, a statue of a cherub holding a butterfly, and some solar-powered lights. Pansies and daisies, purchased from Wal-Mart, had been recently planted and a new floor-mat lay nearby, for whoever knelt down to pray when they visited. A plastic bag was clipped to a tree nearby, with a wet business card from the Camden County Prosecutor's Office inside.
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 Camden County Prosecutor's Office believes, and placed in a velvet bag inside a cardboard box before being buried.
Though investigators know the full name of the deceased, they've yet to determine how the person died, who her relatives are, or where she was cremated. Now 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 whomever's remains these are," said Jason Laughlin, a spokesman for the Camden County Prosecutor's Office.
Authorities are not releasing the name of the deceased yet, but they do want the family to come forward and provide a death certificate and the location of the crematory that handled the remains. Authorities have not been able to locate a death certificate for the individual or a crematory that handled a case by that name.
Death certificates are required for all cremations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and cost anywhere from $600 to $2,000.
"We wanted to be able to resolve this without creating too much publicity for this family," Laughlin said.
No one has contacted the prosecutor's office, despite the business card left at the scene. Laughlin said the prosecutor's office would help the family find a proper burial site.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Camden County Prosecutor's Office Investigator Paul Audino at (856) 225- 8449.
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