News10NBC Investigates: Buried in the wrong spot?

News10NBC Investigates: Burial plot confusion

The News10NBC Team details breaking News, Traffic and Weather.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Imagine, you buy the burial plots next to your family to ensure you’ll be together for eternity, only to go for a visit one day and find someone else has been buried in your spot. It happened to a couple from Fairport and they’ve been fighting for months for answers. 

Ellen Teichman’s parents met at a wedding back in the 1950s.

“One of his friends said, ‘I got a girl for you.. Oh okay’ and four months later, they were married,” recalls their daughter, Ellen Teichman.

After decades of raising a family and living life to the fullest, the Teichmans wanted to make sure their final arrangements were taken care of. So, they bought burial plots at the Britton Road Cemetery off of Lake Avenue in Rochester.

“They had those plots for many, many years,” Ellen says.

After Alice and Nathan Teichman passed away, Ellen and her husband Jay decided they wanted to be buried at Britton Road Cemetery too.

“I think as you get older, your parents mean more to you,” says Ellen.

So, in 2018, she paid $1,200 for the two plots directly in front of Alice and Nathan.

“‘Plots 101 and 102 are available and their yours,’ we were told. So, we sent a check. I would go in front of my mother and my husband goes in front of my father,” Ellen says.

Ellen provided News10NBC with a map she was given at the time of purchase that shows her two plots directly in front of her parents. She also provided a receipt from the Teoronto Lodge #8, Independent Order of Odd Fellows. 

All was well until a few years later when Ellen and Jay came for a visit.

“He says, ‘Oh no, come and see,’” she recalls, “And it was a brand new grave. The tombstone wasn’t up, just the little gold marker was there.” 

Someone else had been laid to rest in front of Ellen’s parents.

“Big mistake. Huge. Because we have paperwork. We paid for our plots,” she says.

By then, the local Independent Order of Odd Fellows had dissolved, but there is a still an administrator for the cemetery and a cemetery association. So, Ellen was hoping to get the situation resolved before the headstone was placed but that didn’t happen.

“It’s not right. Nobody did their diligence to check it out. They just dug a hole,” she says.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke took the map, receipt, and Ellen’s story to Michael Phillips, the President of the Britton Road Cemetery Association.

“We actually don’t own any plots, they’re owned by the individual member organizations that, most of them no longer exist — the old temples, synagogues and fraternal organizations,” he says. 

The map that Ellen has, according to Phillips, is outdated.

“If you look at your map, it shows the Schwartzes—they’re buried in the road, which obviously is not the case,” he says.

The Schwartzes do look like a late addition on the map that Ellen has and as Phillips explains it—that shifted the row where the Teichmans are buried. 

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC): “Regardless of what’s happening with that row, I think it’s pretty clear she (Ellen) chose the two plots directly in front of her parents. It’s what she paid for and on the map, it shows her plots directly in front of their plots?”   

Michael Phillips:  “Right. So actually when the time comes for her, they’re not going to be that far off.”

Jennifer Lewke:  “But that doesn’t answer the question of why there’s another woman buried in what appears to be their plot. According to the map that woman is supposed to be in front of a woman named Florence Greenberg. Who dug this hole, and based on what map? Because this map would seem to indicate that she’s a little far over?” 

Michae Phillips: “That’s correct. So, the holes are actually dug by a contractor that Britton Road Association utilizes to do the actual burial, but they do it in conjunction with the family and the funeral home.”

Neither of which sold the initial plots. So, we’re back to square one. 

Michael Phillips: “She’d have to go back to the Gideon Lodge or the Odd Fellows to see who sold plots they shouldn’t have sold.”

Jennifer Lewke: “But where do you go back to? They’ve dissolved right?”

Michael Phillips: “That’s the problem.”

News10NBC reached the family of the woman who appears to be buried in Ellen’s plot. It turns out, the brother of Hila Babin was friends with Ellen’s dad and had no idea there was even an issue. He says he’d consent to moving his sister’s remains closer to his burial plots which are just a few spots away from where she is buried now. 

Michael Phillips: “I know there was talk of exhuming Ms. Babin, and the problem in a Jewish cemetery is it’s very difficult to do because the body is buried in a pine box. There’s no embalming. And by now it’s pretty much all disintegrating, plus you have to sign off on all the family members and what not, and it’s also very expensive to do.”

Jennifer Lewke:  “So, now what? How do we ensure something like this doesn’t happen with other people?”

Michael Phillips:  “In the spring, maybe all the parties go out there and we physically do a layout. How much off is it really? Then there would have to be a decision that Ellen and Jay would make. If it’s off a foot and a half or two feet or three feet, is that acceptable? And that, I can’t answer. Other than the exhumation there really may not be a cure. 

Ellen and Jay, the Babin family, the administrator, and the association are planning to do a site visit when the snow melts to discuss options.

The NYS Division of Cemeteries says it was previously unaware of this matter and without knowing all the facts, it cannot speculate as to whether there is any violation of statute or regulations or what might constitute appropriate action here.

The office is encouraging Ellen and any individual with an issue about a burial to submit a formal complaint so it can be investigated.  To file a complaint, click here.

In the handful of similar cases nationally reviewed by News10NBC, most of the time, the body was moved to honor the original contract. But in this case, Jewish traditions may make that too difficult.   

It’s not totally uncommon for a plot to be sold and then there’s a boulder or some other issue underground that prevents the body from being buried in it. But typically, in those cases, there is a conversation with the family before burial about where to move their loved one.