This past March, Joseph Funaro finalized his purchase of a 200-plus acre property formerly known as Beech Grove Farms on Beech Grove Road near Bulls Gap.
Shortly after the sale was final, Funaro discovered that two neglected cemeteries on the property had been visited by apparent relic hunters who dug multiple holes on and around gravesites.
Bulls Gap brothers who fought for the Union
There were also two Civil War headstones missing that belonged to brothers, Peter Couch and William Couch, who both served in the Union Army in Company D, 8th Tennessee Infantry.
On April 10, the Times News published an article about the thefts. The story included Funaro's $1,000 reward offer for the return of the headstones with "no questions asked."
About a week later, the headstones turned up at the former property owner's business in Morristown.
The delivery was anonymous, and there was no request for the reward.
‘There will be serious consequences’
"We were very happy to get them back," Funaro said. “He (the previous owner) had given permission for metal detecting, and people had reported to the police that they were out there metal detecting, but they didn't take the stones. But then the previous owner said, 'There will be serious consequences if we find out (who took them), so if anyone does have them, return them', and they were returned."
Meanwhile, a group of Civil War relic hunters had contacted Funaro shortly after the article appeared in the Times News and expressed regret about the likelihood that someone in their hobby may have desecrated the graves.
Those relic hunters volunteered to help clean up both neglected cemeteries on the Funaro property and help look for and identify other graves that might be lost or obscured by neglect and/or vegetation.
Funaro had hoped to get the headstones back in place the next weekend after they were returned, but weather and scheduling issues delayed that effort until this past weekend.
‘They felt upset, and that's why they volunteered’
On Saturday, a half dozen relic hunters participated in the cleanup and headstone replacement with Funaro and his family.
"They're people who legitimately go look for items from the Civil War with permission from the property owners," Funaro told the Times News on Monday. "After it came out in the news about the headstone thefts and other things that occurred at the cemetery, they didn't want to be tarred with that brush. They felt upset, and that's why they volunteered to help. One of them even placed a $500 reward on his Facebook page."
The former property owner told Funaro that he previously scanned the Couch Cemetery perimeter with a metal detector and found where there had been a fence or something metal surrounding that area.
The area was 50 feet by 150 feet and they believe there may be as many as 50 graves in there.
Funaro added, "We went through both graveyards on the property looking for headstones. We found some that were basically fieldstones that people had inscribed upon themselves. We found numerous graves without markers. You could tell they were graves because you could stick a probe down almost three feet so you know it was previously dug up and re-positioned, and if there were any wooden coffins there they've long ago dissolved."
The Funaros plan on building a fence around both cemeteries and keeping them maintained from now on.