Cemetery worker discovers exposed human bones spilling from embankment in Henrico

Henrico County
East End Cemetery,

John Sydnor, owner of East End Cemetery, said he found some old bones during one of his weekly inspections. (Photo Alex Thorson)

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Tucked far, far back behind dozens of gravesites at the historic East End cemetery, worker Aaron McFarland stumbled upon something he didn’t expect. 

McFarland, tree lab manager for Enrichmond, found old human bones laying out in the open around 9:30 a.m. during one of his weekly inspections of East End Cemetery.

“I found a bone on the side of the hill, looked up and right above it is more bones,” he said of the bones he found spilling from the side of an embankment. “I don’t want to say it was cool, you don’t want to see someone’s remains exposed but it’s neat to kind of find a potential piece of history on a site that’s been kind of lost and forgotten in time,” he said. 

The cemetery was founded in the 1890s. Laid to rest there are many African Americans who weren’t allowed to be buried in cemeteries with white people. Neighboring the gravesite is the Evergreen cemetery, where Maggie Walker is buried.

McFarland told 8News there aren’t any records showing who was laid to rest and where at the cemeteries. Even if they did have the records, the remains were found far away from any other gravesite, he adds.

“The chances of figuring out who this might be, honestly, in my opinion, pretty low,” he said. “But at least we can give it the proper respect that it needs.”

While John Sydnor, executive director of Enrichmond Foundation, said the bones could just have been the result of erosion from a previous rain shower, he still alerted the Henrico Police Department and the Department of Historic Resources (DHR) about his finding.

McFarland told 8News he’s looking forward to learning what the DHR discovers, in part, “to see what else they might find because, again, who knows what else is in this hillside here.”

Police said officers responded to the cemetery, located on the first block of Evergreen Road, just after 11 a.m. There, detectives and forensic technicians evaluated the scene.

While police said the bones are human, they are not starting a criminal investigation because the bones are old and were found inside a cemetery. 

Enrichmond and DHR will take over the investigation. According to McFarland, the department will do a search of the area to find out if the bones are, in fact, related to a burial. Then they will remove the bones and study them.

The bones will then be turned back over to the Enrichmond Foundation and the DHR for a proper burial.

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