|Birth: ||Mar. 5, 1969|
|Death: ||May 2, 1975|
ST PETE TIMES PUBLISHED JUNE 30 2006
TAMPA - On a Friday morning more than 30 years ago, Mattie Lee Dale's world suddenly came crashing down when a car struck her 6-year-old son.
As emergency workers desperately tried to keep Stevie Russell Dale alive, friends consoled his mother. The car's driver bowed down and prayed.
Stevie died about two hours later at Tampa General Hospital, at about noon, May 2, 1975. Two years later, the family had the remains moved to a stately above-ground tomb.
But on Thursday, more than 30 years after her boy's death, Dale received another shock:
Someone had broken into Stevie's tomb and stolen his remains.
Whoever took the remains had to remove a 600-pound marble top from an above-ground vault at Memorial Cemetery, said Tampa police spokesman Larry McKinnon.
The crime occurred sometime between 5 p.m. Wednesday, when the cemetery closed, and 10:30 a.m. Thursday, when workers discovered the desecration. Memorial Cemetery is at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 22nd Avenue.
McKinnon said that about 90 percent of the skeletal remains - all but a few small bones and residue - were removed from the crypt. They were in a metal casket inside the tomb.
Detectives knew of no reason anyone would have targeted this child's tomb, he said, or whether it was targeted specifically because it was above ground.
"In my 25 years of law enforcement, I've never seen a child's body removed" from its resting place, McKinnon said. "It's very bizarre and very tragic that someone would desecrate a grave."
Memorial Cemetery is less than a mile from Lake Avenue and 16th Street, where the accident that claimed Stevie's life occurred. No charges were filed in his death.
Thursday afternoon, a St. Petersburg Times reporter visited the home of Willie Russell Jr., the driver in that long-ago accident. A man who identified himself as Russell declined comment.
Mrs. Dale was too distraught Thursday to speak with reporters.
The family asked Jeffery Singletary, pastor of the Idlewild Baptist Church, Central Campus, to speak on their behalf.
Stevie was the fifth of Dale's seven children and the youngest boy, Singletary said. The desecration reawakened the pain of his death, he said, leaving Dale distraught.
"The mother still weeps - she loves her son," Singletary said. "This is something that absolutely came out of left field.
"As I said to Miss Mattie, little Steven has a new body - he's in the presence of the Lord. Whoever did this crime did not harm Steven and we cannot allow him to harm us."
Detectives were able to gather some evidence and "items of interest" at the crime scene, McKinnon said. Desecration of a grave is a felony, and anyone involved with stealing remains could also be charged with theft, he said.
"Why would someone do this? It makes no sense," Singletary said. "There was a time in our society when death was sacred."
Last August, thieves broke into two graves at Orange Hill Cemetery, east of Tampa. They dug up the grave of Wonoma Hall, who died in 1945, and stole her bones. They also dug up the grave of William J.M. Clark, who died in 1930, and removed some of his bones.
Police put Stevie Dale's crypt back together Thursday, placing the marble top in place. It's adorned with a small photo of Stevie, and the message:
Gone but not forgotten
We love you Stevie
But God loves you best
Memorial Park Cemetery
Created by: Christian Cruz
Record added: Jul 15, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 14942020