Among the Living … At the Cemetery / by Erin Hollaway Palmer + Brian Palmer

Uncleared burial plots at East End Cemetery, Henrico County, Virginia, January 2015, 2015

Uncleared burial plots at East End Cemetery, Henrico County, Virginia, January 2015, 2015

A dark gray Ford SUV slow-rolled up Evergreen Road, softly crunching gravel. Odd, and little scary. Not many folks travel Evergreen. It’s a dirt road that leads to nothing but cemeteries.

Hunters scouting the area for a little late afternoon poaching, I figured, or cops.

I dropped the vine I was tugging on, and looked toward the front passenger-side window, which was sliding down. I got up and walked toward the truck. Cautiously, I peeked into the window. A man, big and brown, wearing green, leaned toward me. “Mr. Palmer?” he asked.

Captain Milt Robinson told me on the phone that he might drop by on a cemetery cleanup day, and he did. Robinson oversees Henrico County and Richmond for Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

I gathered at his truck with a couple of other volunteers. Robinson told us he wanted to see the area for himself. “We don’t want to go behind Henrico Police and investigate their investigation,” he said. There's interagency cooperation and professional etiquette to worry about. And then, of course, there's general principle: Cops stick together. I get it. My grandfather was a cop, proud of it. He did 20 years in the NYPD, 1936 to 1956, much of it walking a beat in Harlem.

Robinson said he’d consider increasing patrols out here for the next hunting season. Then he excused himself to explore. We all went back to digging, sawing, and pulling.

As the sun started to set, I schlepped our gardening—degardening, in this case—tools back to coordinator John Shuck’s pickup. I put my cameras in our car, and then I walked to Robinson’s truck. He had parked between us—we were working near the main road—and the gate to Evergreen Cemetery. I assumed he’d be nestled in his seat, typing notes into the laptop mounted in the cab. But he wasn’t, so I walked into the woods, or what looked like woods until I took three steps off the road. Every few feet, there were headstones. This was precisely the area where we'd seen the hunters just weeks before.

I couldn't track him down, so we left. I called him later that evening. Robinson told me he'd been looking around, as promised. He said he’d stopped at Maggie Walker’s grave before leaving.