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Woman seeks help to clean up Putnam cemetery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At first, Christy Ray said, she was irate after seeing the overgrown grass on Mother's Day at the cemetery where her grandmother is buried in Winfield.

After doing some research, she realized the owner of the pet cemetery and Teays Valley Memorial Gardens was facing financial problems beyond his control.

"What started to be a rally in protest of the man has turned into a rally to help the man, because he needs help," said Ray, 40, of Browns Creek.

Joseph "Lindy" Bowling, who died after a long illness in 2009, willed the cemetery -- located on W.Va. 34, where more than 40,000 pets and about 1,000 people are buried -- to Howard Hunter.

Hunter, of Culloden, has worked at the cemetery since the 1980s and previously told the Gazette he didn't know about the mountain of debt Bowling left behind.

The federal government has filed suit to strip Hunter, who is in his 60s, of his ownership and auction off the 24 acres of cemetery.

According to a complaint filed in federal district court last year, the corporation Bowling formed to own and operate the cemetery, B's C&D, failed to pay its employment tax liabilities at various times from 2002 through 2010. The taxes, penalties and interest totaled about $91,000 at the time the complaint was filed in June.

Those obligations prompted the federal government to file federal tax liens against the property and the complaint seeks to foreclose on the liens and auction off the property to satisfy them.

After Bowling's death, Hunter became the sole shareholder and president of the corporation.

According to the Putnam County Assessor's Office, the property's market value is $254,000.

Hunter let the few employees who worked at the cemetery go about two years ago and he is overwhelmed with the upkeep the cemetery requires, he told the Gazette last year.

Ray hopes others will help her clean up the cemetery at 8 a.m. May 25.

"We're trying to get as many volunteers as we can that have lawn mowers and weed eaters to come," she said. "We want to help [Hunter] and do it for our loved ones buried there."

Her grandmother, Wanda McCallister, was buried there in 2001.

"She had enough money, she could've been buried wherever she wanted, but grandma was a huge animal lover," Ray said. 

The case against B's C&D is pending in front of U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers. It has tentatively been set for trial Jan. 22, 2014, in Huntington.

According to court documents, in December, Howard wrote a letter to the court in which he stated it wasn't fair Bowling's debts had been passed on to him.

"Once a person dies then their taxes should be excused and not put on someone else," he wrote.

He also wrote he's having a hard time finding a lawyer to help him.

"I know there must be one out there somewhere. It seems like when a person mentions the federal government, lawyers and other people say I am sorry but I just can't help you," his letter states.

Ray wants to help him, even though she hasn't been able to speak with him. The cemetery's phone number has been disconnected, as well as a number listed for Hunter's home in Culloden.

"I talked to his Realtor, though," Ray said, referring to Realtor Duke Jordan who has had no luck selling the property that's been listed for about two years. "He said [Howard] would really appreciate it and would show up to help.

"Hopefully the community will rally together and try to help this man."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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