Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lynyrd Skynyrd Graverobbers

In 1977, an airplane carrying the Jacksonville-based southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in a swamp in Mississippi, killing lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and vocalist Cassie Gaines. The band persevered on, and though the hits stopped coming, they are still one of America's most popular concert draws with a huge Grateful Dead/Jimmy Buffett-like cult following.

Some of their followers, however, may be a little too cultish. In 2000, it was discovered that unknown persons had broken into the graves of Mssrs. Van Zant and Gaines in Orange Park, FL. Gaines' ashes were spilled, and Van Zant's coffin was removed but the vandals were apparently unable to get it open. The vandals were never caught, and it's unknown what their motive was. Some say their intent must have been to rob Van Zant's body of "collectible" items, or to confirm a long-standing rumor that he'd been buried in a Neil Young t-shirt (the band had an ongoing feud with Neil Young because of his song "Southern Man"). But that doesn't explain why they also desecrated Gaines' grave, which contained nothing but an urn of ashes.

The mausoleum was left in Orange Park as a tribute, and fans still lay flowers there, but the remains have been removed. For years, the location of Van Zant's reburial was a secret, but it eventually was revealed he now rests near other family members at Riverside Memorial Park in Jacksonville. This time, he's buried in a massive underground concrete vault, and would-be graverobbers have been warned, "To open the vault would require a tractor with a lift capability of several tons. It is also patrolled by security."

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