Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Grave digger who took skull 'sorry this ever happened'

ST. PETERSBURG — For the first time in about 30 years, Ruth Keaton is resting in peace.

Workers on Thursday exhumed her grave at Royal Palm Cemetery South, and they matched her body to a skull that had been found in the St. Petersburg home of a former grave digger.

Her remains, including her skull, were reburied. Her nephew Mark Keaton placed a heart-shaped wreath on her headstone.

"It's a great relief," he said afterward. "I am definitely feeling a weight lifted off of my shoulders."

Meanwhile, Gary S. Thomas, 60, the retired grave digger who kept the skull for decades, said in an interview that, "I'm sorry this ever happened. It's a shame that it happened like this. You don't think anything's ever going to come of it, you know what I mean?"

Thomas said some of his co-workers were digging a new grave 25 to 30 years ago when the skull became exposed from an older grave right next to it.

"So they grab the skull, and they had it, and they ended up bringing it over to me because I was known as 'the Gravedigger'," Thomas said. That was his nickname in a motorcycle gang.

"I didn't think much about it," Thomas said. "I just hang on to it. Kind of cool."

At times, he said, he kept it on a shelf in his living room. Lately it was in his bedroom. None of the guests who saw it ever told him it was the wrong thing to do, he said.

"I wasn't involved in anything trying to be mean or malicious or anything like that," he said.

But when sheriff's deputies came to his house on Wayne Street near St. Petersburg recently to investigate a disorderly conduct charge against some friends of his, they noticed the skull.

Detective John Spoor said he was asked to look into the case. The Medical Examiner's Office determined it was a human skull. With help from Thomas and a friend, Spoor was able to find the grave, get the name, and even locate a local relative.

"I'm very happy the Sheriff's Office was able to assist in this case," Spoor said, sweaty from assisting with the dig. "It makes me feel good."

Keaton's nephew, 52, of St. Petersburg, came to observe the work. Although he never met his aunt, who died in 1948, he said he knew his father loved her. He said he brought the wreath out of respect for her.

Keaton said the situation was very odd, but he thanked the deputies and anthropologists for working to solve the mystery, and said he holds no malice toward Thomas and the others involved.

"I forgive them," he said. "I'm a Christian, and the Bible says to forgive."

Grave digger who took skull 'sorry this ever happened' 10/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2009 10:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. PolitiFact takes on big health care question: Does GOP bill cut Medicaid?


    Politics and math don't always get along, and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway raised a common complaint about how people talk about the future of Medicaid spending under the Senate Republican health care bill.

    Alice Jacobs, 90, at Dogwood Village, a nonprofit county-owned nursing home in Orange, Va., on June 23. Medicaid, targeted by Republicans' health care bill, pays for most of the 1.4 million elderly people in nursing homes, some of whom do not know they are on it. (Khue Bui/The New York Times)
  2. Gov. Scott in Washington as health care debate intensifies


    Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday began a daylong series of meetings in Washington on health care, saying he wants to ensure Florida gets its share of Medicaid funding while praising parts of the Senate GOP’s Obamacare replacement.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott speaks at Creative Sign Designs in Tampa on June 13.
  3. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo in Parkshore Plaza on the market for $1.5 million. {Courtesy of Amy Lamb/Native House Photography]
  4. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman faces Baker for first time tonight at the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr.'s church

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor's race has been making headlines for nearly two months as Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker have been making speeches, pressing the flesh at fundraisers and gathering their ground forces for an election battle that has already broken fundraising records.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.
  5. Tampa moves to pause permits for 5G wireless equipment to assess impact of new Florida law


    To business groups, the bill that Gov. Rick Scott signed Friday will clear the way for superfast 5G wireless communications and give Florida an edge in attracting high-tech companies.

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other local officials have worried that a new state law aimed at facilitating the installation of 5G wireless technology could clutter scenic corridors like Tampa's Riverwalk.