Family left waiting nearly a year for headstone upset with delays, excuses

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- A cemetery owner already accused of misconduct and incompetence by state officials is back in the spotlight after a family accused her of never even ordering the headstone they paid for 10 months ago.

Although Janice Sollars buried her mother and father last July, she's still waiting for the headstone.

"It's depressing and it's upsetting," said Sollars.

She said every time she asks the cemetery owner about the headstone, she gets a different answer. So does Sollars' daughter Jalina Bradford.

"Last month (the owner) told us she had the headstone on site in that shed," said Bradford as she pointed to a shed just a few yards away from her grandparents' grave.

But then this month, Bradford said, the story changed. The cemetery owner, "told us she had to order the headstone because she doesn't know where it's at."

This isn't the first time Ashland Perpetual Care Cemetery in St. Joseph has had issues. It's been cited multiple times by the city for not mowing the grass, or picking up garbage. The weeds have gotten so tall here that some family members regularly bring weed wackers when they visit their loved ones.

A few years ago, the state placed the owner on a five-year probationary status for not maintaining enough money in her endowed care fund, not providing required financial records and for not bothering to pay a court judgment after she was successfully sued by another family who also didn't get a headstone.

So far, the owner has ignored almost everything the state has ordered her to do, according to a state official. Because of that the probation has been extended until 2018.

FOX 4 Problem Solvers decided to pay owner Cora Bullock Opuiyo a visit, hoping to finally get that headstone for Janice Sollars' parents.

FOX 4 asked Opuiyo for proof that she'd ever ordered the headstone. She told us she didn't have time to show us the documents, although we were standing right outside the cemetery's office.

Opuiyo insisted the headstone would be installed on the gravesite "in a little bit." But when we asked how long "a little bit" was, she said "in a few days, probably."

As to her troubles with the state, she blamed those on financial problems she said she inherited from the cemetery's former owner. But that's not what court records say. They accuse her of failing to maintain records and failing to contribute 15 percent of her cemetery plot sales to the endowed fund, as required by law.

In addition, according to court records, she failed to provide a "master list" of sales for grave spaces throughout the year and failed to list the activities of the trust fund in her annual report.

"Well, I keep records the way I want to keep records," Opuiyo said.

Which, according to state officials, is exactly the problem. One state official told FOX 4 Problem Solvers that if the situation doesn't improve, the state could be forced to take the cemetery away from Opuiyo and ask the city or county to take it over.

Meanwhile, Janice Sollars keeps waiting, hoping that this time Opuiyo is telling the truth and the headstone will arrive next week and her parents can finally rest in peace.