HAVERHILL — The North Sandwich man who stole a rare antique wrought iron cemetery gate and sold it as scrap to a metals dealer is behind bars for the next one-an-a-half to four years.
In a crime that outraged New Hampshire historians and prompted the president of the New Hampshire Old Graveyard Association to call for criminal penalties also for dealers who buy such items, John Campbell, then 43, was hit with a felony charge of theft by unauthorized taking for the gate, which had a cash value greater than $1,000.
But the actual value of the one-of-a-kind gate with special markings Campbell stole from the 1785 Old Home Cemetery in Bridgewater couldn’t be measured in dollars, according to many in that town and throughout the state.
Local authorities didn’t find out for months it was missing from the old graveyard in a remote section of town, and believe Campbell stole it as early as May 2011. Given the time frame, it’s almost certain the ornate gate was destroyed and turned to scrap for resale.
In addition to the main prison sentence, Grafton County Superior Court Judge Timothy J. Vaughan assessed Campbell an additional 150 days confinement for each year he serves, and ordered him to pay $2,500 restitution. Upon his release, Campbell must stay away from Old Home Cemetery, the oldest among Bridgewater’s six municipal graveyards.
The judge gave him credit for 94 days pretrial confinement in Grafton County jail.
After a grand jury indicted Campbell last year, Richard Alperin, president of the 290-member statewide graveyard association, said such thefts become more frequent in tough economic times.
“It’s obviously a problem. The scrap steel and scrap metal industry has now come to the aid of people who need money. Manhole covers and storm-drain grates are disappearing from dead-end streets,” and other locations where the work of thieves is less likely to be seen while the crimes are in progress, he said.
“They’re as vulnerable as cemeteries,” he said. “Maybe we need laws to make it a crime for dealers to buy these items.”