EAST FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Thieves vandalized mausoleums at a Catholic cemetery on Long Island and stole a woman's remains during an overnight break-in, police said Tuesday.
The break-in happened at St. Charles Cemetery between 6:30 p.m. Monday and 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, when a caretaker discovered the damage.
Three mausoleums were entered and a casket was removed from one, said Suffolk County Deputy Inspector Robert Brown. He added that while cemetery vandalism is a somewhat regular occurrence, he had only heard of a body being stolen "once or twice" in his 25-year career.
"The removal of a body is very uncommon," Brown said.
Investigators believe the remains were not specifically targeted, but said the culprits "came prepared" to break into a locked mausoleum, Brown said. "They knew what they would face in order to open a casket."
He declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
Because heavy marble slabs had to be moved in order to get at the casket, investigators believe more than one suspect was involved, he said. Police believe the intruders likely hopped over a fence surrounding the sprawling cemetery.
Relatives of the woman whose body was stolen have been notified, Brown said. He declined to identify the woman, who was interred about 12 years ago, or her family, but said she was not a public figure.
"She was certainly significant to her family," he added.
He said cadaver dogs were deployed in the surrounding area in case the thieves decided to abandon the woman's remains.
The cemetery, which opened in 1914, is operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. It is bordered by Republic Airport to the west and a number of other large cemeteries to the east.
"It is incomprehensible that anyone would violate the sacred resting place of those that have passed from this world to eternal life," diocesan spokesman Monsignor Kieran E. Harrington said in a statement. He added that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has reached out to immediate family members of the woman to express his "profound sorrow and solidarity in this painful time."