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No graves found beneath Hillsborough Tax Collector’s Office building

A tip from the man who pointed to the cemetery beneath King High School didn’t pan out this time.
No sign of graves was found during a survey using ground-penetrating radar at the Tax Collector's office on E Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. The survey was conducted based on a tip by a cemetery researcher. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
No sign of graves was found during a survey using ground-penetrating radar at the Tax Collector's office on E Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa. The survey was conducted based on a tip by a cemetery researcher. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published Dec. 10, 2019
Updated Dec. 10, 2019

TAMPA — Death and taxes, they say, are the two things no one can escape.

But at least they didn’t merge during a weekend search to determine whether a forgotten cemetery lies beneath the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office at 2814 E Hillsborough Ave.

A tip from cemetery researcher Ray Reed prompted the search. No sign of a grave was found, Tax Collector Doug Belden said Tuesday.

A survey using ground-penetrating radar was conducted by GeoView, the geophysical services company that discovered 145 graves from forgotten Ridgewood Cemetery on the grounds of King High School last month.

Reed had predicted Ridgewood would be found at the site, and late last year, he provided the tip led the Tampa Bay Times to discover the location of Zion Cemetery on North Florida Avenue, believed to be Tampa’s first African-American burial ground.

ORIGINAL STORY: Nearly 400 people buried in Tampa are missing. What happened to Zion Cemetery?

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Read how the story of Zion Cemetery has unfolded in the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa cemetery historian Ray Reed told county commissioners there might be graves beneath the tax collector's office. ["BRONTE WITTPENN | TIMES"]

Reed’s tip about the Tax Collector’s Office was based on a 1930′s photograph that appeared to show a cross-shaped grave marker. At a Hillsborough County Commission meeting Wednesday, Reed pleaded for action as he recited the names of some of the African-Americans he believed were buried there.

“Please do the right thing by them in 2020,” he told commissioners. "This is an abomination committed deliberately upon them.”

But when librarians at the John F. Germany Public Library downtown allowed the Times to view the original negative of the photo, the shape more resembled a wooden post for a wire fence than a grave marker.

The survey bore that out. The only underground object detected by the radar was utility equipment, Belden said. The scan went to an estimated depth of 7 to 8 feet.

Doug Belden, Hillsborough County tax collector, holds a news conference Tuesday to announce that no graves were found beneath hos office's building on East Hillsborough Avenue. [CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL | Times]

“I’m glad we provided closure,” Belden said. “I think it’s sad. I would be devastated if I didn’t know where one of my loved ones was buried."

The survey cost about $14,200, Belden said. The building is owned by the state and he plans to ask the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which shares the site, to pay half of the cost.

Reed did not immediately return a call seeking comment.


  1. Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputy Alton Smith helps recover items Wednesday from Lake Twitt in Odessa during a dive team practice. Divers used the drill to search for evidence of a forgotten African American cemetery nearby. [CHRIS URSO   |  Times]
    Keystone Memorial Cemetery was established by a freed slave and disappeared in the 1950s. The dive team chose Lake Twitt to do its monthly practice.
  2. More than 44 percent of people who searched on for the Tampa Bay area from June to December were outside the region, according to a report from Apartment List. Percentages in the “Top Three Sources” box represent the share of searches coming from outside the metro area. (Apartment List map) [Apartment List]
    The region trails only Denver, Baltimore and San Diego for the percentage of people from outside the area searching for apartments on Apartment List.
  3. Facebook user Cornelius King posted this warning on November 19, 2019. Hillsborough County Sheriff says it is a hoax, but the viral message continues to spread online. [Facebook screenshot]
    A viral post encourages Florida drivers to run over people they see in the street to avoid being attacked.
  4. The sale of Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans to Centene Corp. is expected to close Thursday, the companies said on Wednesday. [File photo]
    The companies said Wednesday they have satisfied all regulatory approvals, including with the U.S. Department of Justice, for the merger to close.
  5. A bank vault that's in the basement of the old Franklin Exchange Bank building in downtown Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Owner Carolyn Wilson hopes to keep alive the rich local history in the old downtown buildings she owns.
  6. Yesterday• Hillsborough
    Lynn Cristina is a Wesley Chapel momma with two girls and works full time as a marketing manager. [Courtesy of Lynn Cristina]
    There’s nothing like a cathartic breakdown in the Starbucks drive-thru to help a mom gain some perspective.
  7. Doug Bakke announced this week he’s leaving the race for Hillsborough County Clerk of Court. [Courtesy of Doug Bakke]
    A 26-year veteran of the clerk’s office, Bakke is chief deputy and head of the criminal division, but has not been heavily involved in politics.
  8. Addison Davis, the superintendent of Clay County District Schools, was chosen Tuesday as the new Hillsborough County school superintendent. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The School Board’s vote is unanimous for Davis, who calls himself “an accelerator.”
  9. Smoke from the Levy County controlled burn travelled across three counties in order to reach Hillsborough. []
    Commuters saw the smokey, hazy skies as they drove home. Strong southern winds are carrying the smoke from a prescribed fire in Levy County.
  10. Joseph Hernandez Hall is home to the University of Florida's chemistry department, where a faculty member recently resigned after officials discovered he failed to disclose his strong ties to China. While at UF, the faculty member also held positions at two Chinese universities, including vice president and dean. The faculty member was not named in a report obtained Tuesday from the Florida Legislature. [University of Florida]
    They also collected grant money from the U.S. government while never disclosing their outside work in China.