A thoughtless and heartless crime is being addressed, a little girl is going home again, and perhaps a sad situation will shed light on a community need.
The girl is Emma. She lived a century and a half ago, and whoever disturbed her resting place at Elmwood Cemetery in east Kansas City six weeks ago went out of their way to cover their tracks, so her disappearance might never have been noticed.
“They tried to make it look like she literally never existed,” said Tara Havard, a funeral director at Speaks Family Legacy Chapels in Independence, which has taken up the work.
Havard and Brad Speaks, president and CEO of the company, say Elmwood is among many cemeteries that are old and basically full, have fallen into disrepair and lack the money for maintenance beyond what volunteers can do.
“That place is in dire need of some repairs,” Havard said.
In addition to holding a service for Emma next Saturday, they’re asking the community to step with support for the cemetery.
Havard has led the effort to put things right for Emma. Her research turned up this: Emma L.B. Huling was born March 29, 1864 to Alonzo and Lucy E. Huling. It is not known where she was born.
She lived less than a year, dying Feb. 11, 1865. Neither the cause of death nor where the family lived is known. Her body was embalmed – a new process at the time.
“So this family we know was of means,” Havard said.
She is not mentioned in the biographies of her father or brother, and there’s no birth or death record.
“So the mystery remains: Who is this little girl?” Havard said.
The family moved around – Illinois, Florida – and settled in Kansas City. When Emma’s brother, George, died in 1908, he left money for a mausoleum of his design for his parents, himself and Emma. In 1909, Emma was moved from the Elmwood Chapel Mausoleum to the family mausoleum.
She lay undisturbed for 110 years.
In March, volunteers noticed a container on the grounds at Elmwood. They decided to move it and would have thrown it in a dumpster if the dumpster weren’t already full.
Then another volunteer saw it there and realized it wasn’t trash. Kansas City police and the Jackson County medical examiner were contacted, and the container was opened. Inside that was another container.
“Inside that was a baby,” Havard said – the mummified remains of a little girl.
People began matching records. They came to Emma and went to family mausoleum, and inside her crypt was a rectangle outline in the dust – perfectly matching the container that had been found by chance and nearly sent to the landfill.
What’s more, whoever did this moved a marble piece back in place so no one would know anyone had been there or anything taken.
Why was it taken? For scrap – but the scrap dealer said no, and the container was dumped back at the cemetery.
People have stepped up. Police have a lead or two.
“They are actively pursuing this case,” Havard said.
Emma will be put back in her crypt – in a new container donated by the Wilbert Vault Company – and volunteers are making the family mausoleum more secure.
Brad Speaks will officiate at the service at 11 a.m. next Saturday in the Elmwood Chapel.
“Our main goal is to do what’s right by this little girl,” he said.
He added, “We do a lot of services. We do a lot of children’s services, but this is a first.”
Havard crocheted a blanket and a tiara for Emma.
“I wanted to have a piece of me to go with her,” she said.
The child will be back with her family, and those involved say they hope Elmwood and other old cemeteries – and by extension the many who rest there – get more attention and help.
“There needs to be more protection of these places,” Havard said.