2013-04-24 / Front Page

Suspect arrested in grave robberies

Meth labs busted
By Anne Marie Kyzer

Ralph “Bubba” Hillis Ralph “Bubba” Hillis Investigators haven’t found any of the artifacts taken by two alleged grave robbers but they did find their meth labs.

Ralph “Bubba” Hillis, 41, was arrested Monday afternoon when Richmond County authorities responded to an unrelated meth lab tip at a residence there. Investigators with the Burke County Sheriff’s Office are still searching for 39-yearold Jerry Atkinson, who shim- mied through a bedroom window and ran away when authorities arrived at his Joyner Road home in Morris Village along Highway 24 South, not far from the Old Church cemetery where the graves were desecrated. A search of his home turned up two meth labs and components of another in a nearby shed, according to Sgt. Dan Lowe, an investigator with the BCSO.

“We found one meth lab under a sink, then found another in a backroom,” Sgt. Lowe said. “We found more evidence of manufacturing meth in the shed next to the residence.”

Jerry Atkinson Jerry Atkinson They also found a number of Indian artifacts but none that appeared to have been taken from the five looted graves at Old Church cemetery.

While Hillis is currently being held in Richmond County on drug charges, both men will be charged here with malicious removal of the dead from a grave. Atkinson will face addi- tional charges of manufacturing of methamphetamine, two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon based on two guns recovered in his home, and a single count of obstruction for running from deputies.

Sgt. Lowe said their break in the case came through a tip from a witness who linked the two men to the crime, which has generated public and media interest as far away as the United Kingdom since the looting was first discovered April 13. Five graves had been excavated at Old Church cemetery, which dates back to before the Revolutionary War. Among the remains strewn about were those of a baby girl and at least one Confederate soldier. The girl’s cast-iron casket was damaged but left near her grave along with the sole of her tiny shoe. All that remained at the others were the bones of the deceased.

Meth lab components are laid out on a deck after being removed from Jerry Atkinson’s Joyner Road home . Meth lab components are laid out on a deck after being removed from Jerry Atkinson’s Joyner Road home . Residents here and elsewhere have been outraged, and descendants of Old Church members have contacted The True Citizen to see if their ancestors’ graves had been disturbed. A number of others have sought to donate to the reward and restoration efforts at the cemetery.

“You just don’t dig up someone’s loved ones, regardless of how old the graves are,” Sgt. Lowe said, who added that the investigation into the grave robberies is ongoing.

Anyone with information on the crime or the artifacts that may have been taken is asked to call the BCSO at 706-554-2133.

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