Business owners carve warning messages into stone after string of thefts with grave consequences

Posted at 10:09 PM, Mar 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-20 00:09:22-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The stones that rest at the Salt Lake City Cemetery are often written just across the street along 4th Avenue, where Mike Ellerbeck is always crafting a message.

"They're just fun to read," said Ellerbeck. "This scene and this epitaph, that tells more."

As the owner of the Salt Lake City Monument, Ellerbeck has been creating scenes and epitaphs for 40 years. While most are for customers, he’s started crafting messages for another clientele: thieves.

“We noticed that after we would put stuff out, they’d be gone the next day,” he said.

On the front lawn of the store, Ellerbeck has all the styles and designs of his stones out on display, day and night. Because they are so heavy, he’s never been concerned about theft. That is until he slowly started realizing that smaller, decorative pieces were disappearing.

“We have neighbors down the street that have lined their whole garden with stolen rocks from our thing,” said co-owner Connie Ellerbeck.

But rather than confront anyone, the family has decided to send a message from their gravestones. Lining the property now are carvings with warnings.

One reads, “Freedom is not free. Neither is this stone.”

Etched in another are the words, “A curse upon you who take our stone.”

"It's very satisfying,” said Ellerbeck. “I just get a kick out of it."

The stones have not necessarily curbed any more thefts. At times, the family notices that their warnings, too, have been stolen. Given the work and type of stone, Ellerbeck thinks they’ve probably lost nearly $10,000 in product over the years.

“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” he said. “I guess they need it more.”

But he’s found some value in the loss through the work.

“Things pop into my head. I enjoy it," he said of the warning messages to thieves.