DUNEDIN — A few times a week, Elisabeth Sternbeck drives by the cemetery where her husband and father are buried. But one day last month she noticed the silk chrysanthemums in front of their graves didn't look right.
She stopped by the Eternal Rest Memories Park and Funeral Home the next day only to find that someone had stolen the bronze vases that were supposed to hold the flowers.
"It's unbelievable," said Sternbeck, 79. "How could you be such a lowlife as to steal from a grave?"
It turns out, Sternbeck was not alone. Someone stole 110 vases from the cemetery over the summer and sold them to a scrap metal yard.
On Monday, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested William B. Moncalieri Jr., a 29-year-old former employee of the cemetery at 2966 Belcher Road.
The Palm Harbor man was charged with injuring or removing monuments from a grave site, dealing in stolen property, trespassing and petty theft.
According to authorities, Moncalieri made $1,008 selling 720 pounds worth of vases to the OneSteel Recycling Co. at 2032 Gentry St. in Clearwater.
He returned to the scrap yard a number of times, each trip bringing more vases, and that eventually led to his arrest.
Charles Scalisi III and his wife, Tracey Scalisi, who together own the funeral home, crematory, and cemetery, said Moncalieri left on good terms last February. He wanted to pursue his education and get a job with benefits, they said.
But at some point over the summer, authorities said, he returned to the cemetery, which has no gates, and started stealing the vases planted next to the headstones. Then he put the flowers in the hole where the vase had stood.
In early August, soon after receiving two complaints, the Scalisis noticed the thefts all over their 13-acre property. That's when they contacted the Sheriff's Office.
Moncalieri continued to remove vases, authorities said, and he returned time after time to OneSteel.
A worker from the cemetery visited the scrap yard one day and told them what was happening. He left his business card and asked them to be on the lookout for the vases. The next day, the scrap yard called to say that a William Moncalieri had just come by with more vases.
That clue led to his arrest.
As of Tuesday, the 110 vases were still being held at OneSteel. Representatives of the company did not respond to a request for an interview.
It is not clear how the vases will be returned.
Cecilia Barreda, a Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, said the cemetery would have to purchase the vases from the scrap yard.
But Charles Scalisi said the vases don't belong to him. The cemetery owns the land, but the people who buy the plots own the headstones and vases. Scalisi said he can't afford to replace the vases out of his own pocket.
Beyond that, it's not clear which graves had vases to start with. Ten to 15 families have come forward to complain about missing vases, but the vast majority of the vases found at the scrap yard haven't been assigned to particular gravesites.
So at least for a while longer, the fate of the vases will hang in limbo.
Tracey Scalisi said it has been a very emotional time for clients of the cemetery, many of whom have come to her in tears to complain about the missing vases.
"There's something about messing with someone who has passed away," Tracey Scalisi said. "They are very helpless."
Moncalieri was being held at the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $30,500 bail.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.