CRANSTON, R.I. (WJAR) — It’s been an ongoing problem for more than a decade, and the NBC 10 I-Team learned the situation inside an abandoned mausoleum in Cranston is getting worse, not better.
Like a scene from a horror movie, the remains of hundreds of people are still trapped inside, the roof is crumbling and there’s water damage, black mold and asbestos throughout.
Many of the tombs have been desecrated, with their bronze markers stolen. Numerous videos of illegal break-ins have been posted to social media sites showing the damage, including caskets broken open with human bones exposed.
Perhaps no one knows the strange saga of the Roger Williams Mausoleum better than Christine DeMarco, who’s lived next door for nearly 20 years and has tried repeatedly to get help to secure the building.
"The building is completely shattered inside,” DeMarco said. "There has been a lot of disturbances to the vault and to the caskets."
NBC 10 and other media outlets have reported on the situation time and time again since at least 2005.
No one actually owns the building, which was declared abandoned by a judge about 10 years ago.
At some point, the city of Cranston put up plywood to block the doors and a chain link fence. But the building is now easily accessible with the plywood broken and fencing down.
"I think I'm past frustration,” DeMarco said. “There has to be a way that you can keep people from just jimmying the doors, which right now they do. There is such a desire to get in that building."
The I-Team showed Cranston Mayor Ken Hopkins what we found.
"I've got a lot going through my mind right now. First is safety, public safety. That's my job, to make sure that it's safe and secure. Desecration of bodies, that's an issue and concern for me,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins inherited the mausoleum mess when he took office six months ago. Neighbors say what happens inside is disturbing and unsafe.
"We're looking at homeless people, drug addictions, prostitution. All taking place here,” Hopkins said. "Somebody needs to take ownership of it, and I'm not sure who."
The mayor said a taller, stronger fence would cost about $20,000. But he worries that would only be a temporary solution to a much bigger problem.
"We're just kind of feeding into something that needs a better fix,” he said. "For safety reasons, it needs to be torn down, and the bodies need to be relocated into a common grave somewhere."
Funeral director Andrew Correia of J.H. Williams & Co. Funeral Home in East Providence believes he can help make the area safer and honor the dead trapped inside the decaying building.
"We can do better than this,” Correia told NBC 10 News.
Correia said he’s found a cemetery in Tiverton willing to rebury the remains, as well as a local company willing to provide vaults, both at a steep discount. He estimates the total cost would be about $500,000. He said he presented his plan to the city about two years ago, but says he never got a response.
"I tried. I tried. It fell on deaf ears at the time,” he said. "There is no government agency in the state of Rhode Island overseeing cemeteries or mausoleums, and this is prime example of why need that regulation."
So what happens next?
Hopkins said his team will meet with representatives from the state’s Department of Administration on Monday to see how the city and the state can work together on the problem.
Gov. Dan McKee’s office confirmed the meeting, telling NBC 10 in a statement: "This does not appear to be an issue concerning the state, however, the Governor is open to discussing the situation and has asked the Department of Administration to meet with city officials."