Three Convictions Made for Grave Disturbance

In April 2006, two individuals walking in a back country area of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park near Hancock, Maryland, came upon a historic cemetery. The individuals found a grave in the cemetery which appeared to have been disturbed. The individuals reported the grave disturbance to authorities and an investigation ensued by the National Park Service.

U.S. Park Rangers responded to the area and found the disturbed gravesite of Mary Ohr, who died October 10, 1875. Mary Ohr’s grave is marked with a large headstone and is surrounded by a wrought iron fence. She was married to Dr. Charles H. (C.H.) Ohr. He was the mayor of Cumberland from 1859-1866 and he spent several years as a member of the Maryland state senate.

In the surrounding area of the cemetery, rangers located small holes which had been dug into the surface of the ground. From evidence found, metal detectors were suspected as being utilized in the crime.

With the assistance of National Park Service (NPS) archeologists, the crime scene was carefully processed. Even though the hole dug over Mary Ohr’s gravesite was only five-feet deep, it was found that the casket had been entered.

On June 20, 2006, three subjects, Christopher Pelchat (24), Jonathon Carroll (29), and James Carroll (53), all local residents of Hancock, Maryland, were interviewed by rangers and NPS special agents. During these interviews, all three subjects admitted to participating in metal detecting/relic hunting in the park. It was discovered by their statements that Jonathon Carroll and Christopher Pelchat dug the gravesite. Both individuals admitted to using a metal detector in order to locate artifacts. They also admitted to digging approximately 25 to 30 holes in the area of a homestead before discovering the gravesite. They stated that they dug at the gravesite in hopes that they could locate jewelry from the remains of Mary Ohr. After digging approximately five feet, they stated that they began “creeping out” and abandoned their excavation, unbeknownst to them, they had already dug through Mary Ohr’s remains.

On January 15, 2007, Jonathon Carroll and Christopher Pelchat pled guilty in federal court for violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 470). As part of a plea agreement, both subjects were sentenced to pay the park $2,569 in restitution costs for the damage incurred, one year probation, twenty-five hours of community service in the park, forfeiture of two metal detectors, and they have been banned from entering any National Park Service site for two years.

On February 20, 2007, William Carroll pled guilty to Digging Cultural/Archeological Resources (36 CFR 2.1(a)(6)) and was ordered to pay $1015.94 in restitution costs to the park.

Relic hunting and metal detecting in national parks is a violation of federal law and is strictly enforced across the country. The Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (16 U.S.C. 470) was enacted to protect archeological resources on public lands as these resources have become increasingly endangered due to their commercial attractiveness.

In an apology letter written by Christopher Pelchat to the park, he states, “It was a stupid and very foolish thing to do.”

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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