Boneyard Ramble

Crushed in a garbage truck, poisoned by a landlady, crapped out-literally--during a dice game. These and more are buried in this county's cemetaries, and come Halloween night, they'll be dying to get out

The two murder victims, one responsible for the other's death, are buried on opposite sides of Flagler Memorial, once a sort of low-rent alternative to nearby Woodlawn Park Cemetery. The years have been kind to Flagler. The layout is tasteful, the grounds are well kept, parking is plentiful, separate burial gardens have been provided for Elks and Masons, and the Mediterranean architecture of the office buildings is charming.

"Would an electrician use his trade to kill his wife?" asked defense attorney James Gilmour. "It's like leaving your business card on a body!" But the jury disagreed, and Joseph Roth got life in prison. His wife, Barbara Ann Roth, wound up at Flagler Memorial. When the cops arrived at the Roth home in Southwest Dade on March 20, 1975, they found Barbara Roth, described by friends as "a pill freak," surrounded by prescription medicine bottles. Joe Roth said he had awakened at 3:00 a.m. and heard his wife screaming. He went to the bathroom, where he found her vomiting. He hadn't reported the death for four days, he said, because he thought suicide victims couldn't get a Catholic burial.

But Joe Roth couldn't explain the burn marks on his wife's wrist and ankle. Roth and his most recent girlfriend had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife shortly before Mrs. Roth's death, prosecution witnesses testified. The medical examiner said he thought Joe Roth had attached wires to his wife's extremities and killed her with a 60-second jolt of electricity from the wall socket. Lights out. Back-from-the-dead potential: High, in all four cases. Flagler Memorial has real potential for Halloween action. Barbara Roth, though not a suicide, never did get her Catholic funeral. And before she left this world, she threatened to "take Joe with her" if she died. Joe should be a worried man. As for Dr. Clifton Springmyer, he has to travel only 100 yards to get hold of his murderer.

Graceland Memorial Park, 4420 SW Eighth St.

Like Pinelawn, Graceland has recently been purchased by Osiris Holding Co. of Philadelphia. That's probably a good thing. Squeezed in between Flagler Memorial and Woodlawn, this may be Dade's most nondescript boneyard, one of its many defects being an absence of plot markers. You could spend half an hour looking for the grave of Daniel Garcia, Jr., a 31-year-old insurance salesman who took a wrong turn on North River Drive one rainy night in 1977, and drove his car down a boat ramp into the Miami River. Garcia had just purchased a brand-new Mercury Cougar, and apparently was quite tickled with it. The car's standard features included automatic antitheft door locks. When the Cougar hit the water, the electrical system shorted out, leaving the door handles and locks inoperable. "He died while trying to get out of the car," a medical examiner noted. "Evidence of this is that he bent the door handle outward nearly 90 degrees." Back-from-the-dead potential: Moderate. Certain Ford Motor Co. engineers might want to lie low.

Woodlawn Park Cemetery, 3260 SW Eighth St.

Woodlawn's wealth of history and fastidiously kept grounds have been extolled by well-known writers, including author Joan Didion and poet Theodore Roethke. It's the Coral Gables of Dade graveyards. A shady, vine-draped portico leads the visitor to a plush, lamplit lobby, where three kinds of credit cards are accepted and smoking is not discouraged. Ruben Nieves, accidentally crushed to death in a cement mixer, is a resident. So are father-and-son gangsters Ronald and David Yaras, the younger murdered by gangland enemies weeks after the death, by natural causes, of the elder. Angeline Peters was cremated here, having shot herself after killing her lover, Miami Beach socialite George C. Clarke, as he sat on the toilet. Three former presidents of Cuba were laid to rest at Woodlawn. So was Anastasio Somoza, the former Nicaraguan dictator.

The cost of burial or entombment at Woodlawn can run into five figures, but that doesn't discourage folks any more than the high price of Coral Gables real estate. "We're swamped," says Richard Medina, director of sales-recruitment and training. "We have 100 salesmen working on fourteen-percent commission, and we can't keep up with the demand. This business is recession-proof," he adds. "People have to pay the price, no matter how high it goes. I consider burial like a utility, like running water or electricity. You gotta have it."

What's most stunning about Woodlawn is its mausoleum, a vast, three-story maze that spreads through seventeen interlocking marble buildings filled with private chambers, tiny chapels, statues, and stained glass. Despite the fact that workers are constructing an eighteenth wing, the mausoleum is eerily quiet. Occasionally one hears the gentle paddings of the staff - small, respectful men in white khaki pants, white T-shirts, and white tennis shoes, who resemble angels and spend their days polishing the acres of white marble. Back-from-the-dead potential: Zero. The management wouldn't stand for it.

City of Miami Cemetery, NE Second Avenue at Eighteenth Street

Big, brawny John Rebar was the kind of guy you hope your sister doesn't marry, especially if you have to live with him, too. The sister of James Hamilton III did marry Rebar, and James Hamilton III, a wearer of horn-rimmed glasses and a raiser of ornamental plants, was a witness to their persistent nuptial bickering. Hamilton's job, secretary to the administrative assistant to the Dade school board superintendent, didn't pay enough for him to rent his own apartment. When Rebar lost his job with Dade's sheriff's department, he took to drinking, and hit Hamilton's sister. Big mistake. One night in October 1957, Hamilton surprised Rebar in his sleep and hit him in the head with a sledgehammer. More than once.

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