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3 1800s markers turn up on side of Plaza Drive

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A woman walking home from the grocery store on Monday morning discovered three 150-year-old headstones just sitting along the side of the road on Plaza Drive with some construction debris.

But exactly how the 4-foot-tall, 150-pound gravestones ended up there remains unknown.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Gary M. Belch and Deputy John M. Gleason acknowledged it was a case they wanted to solve, so they spent part of their Monday and Tuesday shifts trying to find out about the stones.

“It’s a mystery,” Detective Belch said. He stressed the importance of getting the headstones back to their rightful owners. “All we know is they’re dead,” he said.

The sleuths did not have much information to go on. Two stones have names and dates of death — Francis Willard died at age 78 on March 4, 1855, and Sherman E. Laflin, son of James and Mary Laflin, died at age 28 on Nov. 29, 1860.

The third gravestone has just an age, 59, and a date of death, May 16, 1851; the remaining information is not legible. “It looked like it was chiseled off,” Detective Belch said.

Using cemetery websites, death certificates in the Jefferson County clerk’s office and archives in the Watertown Daily Times library, Detective Belch and Deputy Gleason tracked down what information they could.

Sherman Laflin’s headstone came from North Watertown Cemetery, off Bradley Street. Manager Richard Williams said the stone had been missing since long before he started working at the cemetery 23 years ago.

“It was taken many, many years ago,” Mr. Williams said. “We have no idea who took it, why or when.”

Cross-referencing the date of death with the names of the people who died May 16, 1851, Detective Belch and Deputy Gleason deduced the illegible headstone belongs to Sophia Sill, the first wife of William Sill. The Sills were buried at Brookside Cemetery in the town of Watertown.

That leaves Francis Willard’s gravestone; Detective Belch and Deputy Gleason may never discover where it came from.

Decades ago, some families removed large headstones and replaced them with smaller ones when family plots filled up. Maybe that’s what happened, Mr. Williams said. After that, headstones often ended up in people’s basements or as slabs for sidewalks.

Detective Belch said it would have taken two people to transport the weighty stones and dump them on the side of the road. What makes the whodunit more intriguing is that a couple of other monuments were found along Plaza Drive a year or so ago, Mr. Williams said.

Why did the police want to solve the case of the headstones?

“We’re public servants,” Detective Belch said.

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